Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Position preview: Inside linebacker
By Scott Brown
Next in a series that looks at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching, we take a look at the Steelers' inside linebackers.
Returning starter:Lawrence Timmons. This became his group after Larry Foote went down with a ruptured bicep in the 2013 opener and Timmons responded with another Pro Bowl-caliber season. The former first-round pick led the Steelers with 126 tackles, and he also recorded three sacks and tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
New faces: Ryan Shazier. The Steelers drafted Shazier in the first round over a cornerback because they felt they were getting one of the best defensive playmakers in the draft. He opened offseason practices as the starter at weakside inside linebacker and the position will be his to lose at training camp.
On the bubble:Terence Garvin. The West Virginia product made the team last season as an undrafted free agent and played in all 15 games before missing the final contest with a knee injury. Garvin shined on special teams and played on passing downs later in the season. But he may be the odd man out at a position where the Steelers have a crowd if Sean Spence's knee holds up during training camp.
By the numbers: Shazier led the Big Ten with 143 tackles and 22.5 tackles for losses last season. He is one of only 10 Ohio State players to lead the Buckeyes in tackles in consecutive seasons
Did you know: All three times the Steelers have had the No. 15 pick in the NFL draft they have used it on a linebacker. Prior to Shazier they picked Timmons (2007) and Huey Richardson (1991).
Quotable: “I love Ryan. He’s a great kid. He loves this game of football, very dedicated to it. When he first got here I told him, 'Ninety-four (Timmons), man. Just follow him around everywhere you can. Ask all of the questions you can.’ He’s a playmaker. Everybody likes him and he’s going to make a lot of plays for us this year.” – outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ 2013 first-round pick, on Shazier.
Outlook: The Steelers turned a position that had been a bit of a question mark into a strength by drafting Shazier. The 6-1, 237-pounder improves their team speed and gives defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau a versatile playmaker that he can move around. Shazier, assuming he plays as well in pads as he did during offseason practices, will start alongside Timmons in the season opener and eventually assume the defensive playcalling duties. Vince Williams, who started 11 games last season at weakside inside linebacker, gives the Steelers a quality reserve. More depth could come from Spence if the former third-round pick makes it all the way back from a career-threatening knee injury.