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Pittsburgh Steelers position update: ILB

8/19/2014

This is the 11th in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every Pittsburgh Steelers position. Next up is inside linebacker.

Players on the roster: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt, and Dan Molls.

Projected starters: Timmons and Shazier. Timmons is one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL and it's puzzling he has yet to make a Pro Bowl. The pairing of the eighth-year veteran with Shazier has defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau conjuring up all kinds of possibilities with the speed and blitz possibilities he has in the middle of the Steelers' defense.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Six. This is an unusually high number but the Steelers are loaded at inside linebacker with the addition of Shazier and Spence's return from a career-threatening knee injury. Zumwalt may be moving close to can't-make-the-tub-in-the-club territory, and it is critical he plays Thursday night at Philadelphia. If the Steelers only keep five inside linebackers it will come down to him and Garvin. Right now I have both making the team.

Rookie watch: Shazier. There weren't enough superlatives to describe his NFL debut last Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills. Shazier, barring an injury, will start at weakside inside linebacker, and the first-round pick looks like he will be a difference-maker from the outset of his NFL career. Zumwalt, a sixth-round pick, clearly has a nose for the ball, and he registered five tackles despite playing only 25 snaps in the Steelers' preseason opener. A groin injury has limited his practice time and kept Zumwalt from playing last Saturday against the Bills. It is paramount he stay healthy over the final two weeks of the preseason.

What we learned in camp: Molls picked a bad year to sign a future/reserve contract with the Steelers. The former undrafted free agent played well at St. Vincent College and leads the Steelers with 12 tackles in two preseason games. But the Steelers are too deep at inside linebacker for Molls to crack the 53-man roster, and a really tough cut looms here if they only keep five players at the position. How much have the Steelers upgraded at inside linebacker? Williams, who started 11 games in 2013 as a rookie and stood out during camp, will open the season in a backup role.

He said it: “He's a great linebacker and there's a lot I can learn from him. I feel like are going to do great things together.” -- Shazier on Timmons.