The Pittsburgh Steelers have re-stocked the linebacker pantry with outside backers through free agency and now the NFL Draft. Because there’s now plenty to choose from, this doesn’t mean everything on the shelf is suddenly top notch.
The team entered the offseason with basically the cupboard bare at the OLB position. Jarvis Jones was the only returning guy with any experience and that’s a bit of a stretch. Howard Jones and Jordan Zumwalt were both on the roster but neither saw the field in their rookie seasons.
As the winter ran on, the team brought back both Arthur Moats and James Harrison and saw Jason Worilds leave via free agency only to retire at 27 years old.
Also brought into the fold was Shawn Lemon who terrorized quarterbacks in the Canadian Football League last season. He’s a guy worth watching but how much can be expected is unknown at this time because the jump from the CFL to the NFL is a quantum leap.
If you look at those names you’ll recognize that 37-year old James Harrison is the best of the bunch right now and that’s probably not good.
Enter Bud Dupree, the team’s first round draft pick and you have a guy who could, and I stress “could” see action sooner rather than later. The other guy added in the draft was Anthony Chickillo who the Steelers want to make the transition from defensive end to outside backer.
So where does this leave us entering OTA periods of the next couple of months?
Outside Linebackers Coach Joey Porter said this weekend that they plan to limit Harrison’s snaps this coming season. That’s a lofty goal but it also means that someone has to step up when he isn’t in there.
Let’s assume Harrison and Moats are your week one starters. Who is the first guy off the bench to spell one of them? Jarvis Jones will be the most likely candidate and after that we have a massive drop-off.
Lemon’s pro playing experience would be nice but let’s be honest; Dupree really needs to be in the rotation of the top four outside backers barring injury doesn’t he?
In a perfect world, Dupree comes into training camp and tears it up. Jarvis Jones looks like the second coming of his position coach while Zumwalt and Howard Jones arrive with a large ‘S’ on their respective chests.
Anything is possible but Keith Butler and Joey Porter have their work cut out for them. Not only do they have to mold guys but they have make them impact players as well.