We close out our 2015 Battle Reports for the Steelers with what has long been the heart and soul of the defense; the linebackers. I’ll cover both the inside and outside backers in this final edition.
Starters Inside/Outside: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, James Harrison, Arthur Moats
Let me address the outside first… I don’t buy any of the talk about James Harrison being on a snap count. At 37, he’s in better shape than anyone else and was the team’s most productive outside backer last season. The perfect scenario for the Steelers is that one of the young guys, especially Jarvis Jones, can step in and take over the position leaving Harrison to be a situational pass rusher where he could really excel.
As far as Moats, I see a similar situation playing out. I think he’s the starter early but could give way to rookie Bud Dupree allowing Moats to be more rotational which I think he’s really built for.
On the inside, Timmons is back following his first Pro Bowl season. I believe he has at least one or two more top level seasons in him before a natural decline kicks in. Shazier is looking for a season that will answer critics. After a great training camp, it looked as though he was primed for a rookie of the year type season but injuries cut that short.
He must stay healthy and prove he can take the punishment of an entire NFL season. If he can, the sky is the limit for him because of his smarts and freakish athleticism.
Reserves Inside: Vince Williams, Sean Spence
Bold prediction coming right here; I think Vince Williams will be an extremely important player for this team by the end of this year and might even be a starter by next season. I like his progress that much.
We all know Spence’s story of heartbreak and revival and I don’t see why it can’t continue. If he has a really good preseason and other linebackers play well, he could be trade bait. He wouldn’t fetch more than a fifth rounder or so but it’s not out of the question. I know the Steelers shopped him during draft time.
Challengers Inside: Terence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt*, Shayon Green*
*Could see time at OLB as well.
Reserves Outside: Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, Shawn Lemon
I expect Jones to eventually take over if not become the starter over James Harrison early in the season. That won’t be because of anything Harrison can or can’t do, it’ll simply be because Jones is ready and his speed will be the difference.
The same can be said for Dupree. It’s possible he takes over for Moats or at the very least becomes a rotational player with him. The Steelers really can’t afford for Dupree to take up space on the sidelines.
I’ve selected Lemon here for two reasons; one because he creates turnovers and two because of his experience.
Challengers Outside: Howard Jones, Anthony Chickillo, Zumwalt, Green
Jones is a crazy athlete who really benefited from the preseason last year where flashed both on defense and on special teams for the Steelers. Do not be one bit surprised if he makes this roster.
Chickillo was a defensive end at Miami but was drafted with a move to OLB in his future according to Steelers’ Coach Joey Porter. His weight is already down which is good and he plays extremely hard. I think he’s a practice squad guy though for at least this season.
Zumwalt has an amazing motor who plays with an attitude and aggression similar to James Harrison. Can he stay healthy and be a part of the special teams units though?
Green had two ACL tears while Miami and saw action at both defensive end and at middle linebacker. My guess is a practice squad guy a best for 2015 for the Steelers.