Tag Archives: Linebackers

Talkin’ Outside Linebackers: How Steelers Defense Remained Dominant With Instability On the Edge


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The outside linebacker is the glory hog of the Steelers defense.

Not that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley don't deserve the praise they get, but their other front seven contemporaries are setting them up for success.

They're used to success. They've had a lot of it. But what the best tandem of 3-4 OLBs in the game haven't shared much together is injuries.

Harrison and Woodley missed a combined 12 games last season, more than one third of the Steelers' regular season contests. It was time for the glory hogs to give some credit back to their teammates, considering the Steelers produced one of their lowest sack outputs in many years, yet, still led the NFL in scoring defense.

What can they do about injuries?

Not much. as any middling Weekend Warrior can tell you, a popped hamstring like Woodley's isn't something that heals overnight. Due to the vital importance the hamstring has in explosive movement, it's very easy to re-injure. That was the case with Woodley, who was well on his way to another Pro Bowl appearance, even Defensive Player of the Year consideration when he began chasing Patriots QB Tom Brady out of the pocket for what seemed to be the 15th time in a Steelers Week 8 win. Woodley already had two sacks and was en route for a third when he pulled up while running, and put his hand on the back of his leg - the universal sign of a tweaked hammy.

He was never the same player the rest of the year. That injury occurred in wake of James Harrison's broken orbital bone, which he suffered on a hit from Texans LT Duane Brown (who is totally allowed to ram defensive players with the crown of his helmet because he plays on offense, according to the league that's pushing the safety agenda as if scores of future lawsuits depended on it). Harrison missed four games, and while he came back to play outstanding football (Week 9 vs. Baltimore in particular), the missed time and the lack of help on his opposite side sent his sack numbers plunging.

One thing they can do is bring in depth to help pick up the slack when injuries happen. They talked to free agent Matt Roth recently, a guy who could play both OLB and DE for the Steelers, but optimism of his signing diminished when he left town without a contract. He still could be in the fold, but either the offer or the player weren't good enough to make it official now.

Jason Worilds was neither great nor terrible, and middle-of-the-line isn't befitting the description of a glory hog. Lawrence Timmons chipped in time at the position as well, and didn't produce much, either. It will be critical for the Steelers to keep Harrison and Woodley healthy, to develop Worilds as a high-level contributor if not a spot starter, and to continue building depth within the unit.

Does the fact the Steelers kicked Roth's tires mean they've lost faith in Worlids or Chris Carter?

Probably not. Roth has played both OLB (in Cleveland) and DE (in Miami) in 3-4 defenses, and every team covets that 2-for-1 kind of player when filling out their rosters. The Steelers don't typically sign starters in free agency, but the best teams in the league find low-priced veterans to fill key positions of depth.

Their starters typically come from within. It remains to be seen whether Worilds or Carter are future starters, but keep in mind, Harrison was with the team for three seasons before winning a starting position and Woodley barely played his rookie year. If the Steelers were 12-4 with the league's top scoring defense while producing 35 sacks (tied for 17th in the league), imagine if they were able to get to the passer more often. Depth, as well as the development of younger players, is critical.

How does the importance of the OLB change in sub packages?

If anything, it becomes more important. Defensive priorities are usually based against the run. The outside linebacker becomes an edge rusher on passing downs, and oftentimes the OLB puts his hand on the ground when his team is in a nickel package. The Steelers will use Harrison and Woodley both standing up and in a three-point stance, and their pass rush angle can vary. The purpose, ultimately is getting pressure.

That pressure fell off quite a bit in 2011 from their output in 2010. The Steelers also had one of the lowest amounts of turnovers for a playoff team in league history. It doesn't rest entirely on the OLBs, but their primary role is to assert pressure. That pressure leads to turnovers, and it should come more often on passing downs than running.

With the amount of snaps the Steelers spent in sub packages last season, it stands to reason teams will throw four and five receiver sets at them often this year too. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau will need to find a way to establish more pressure from the marquee 3-4 position.

Are there concerns about James Harrison's age?

Coming from someone younger than Harrison who's struggling to get through four softball games a week, sure, there are concerns. Very few have Harrison's work ethic, and I trust 100 percent in his ability to prepare his body for the rigors of a season, but the fact is we're simply not built to do what Harrison does for a living for a long time. Even the most well-conditioned humans on the planet start to feel their bodies betray them around his age. He shouldn't (and didn't) have a problem recovering from the broken eye socket, but his back will continue to be an issue.

It's also very difficult to get in game shape without playing the game. It's very likely they'll have Harrison on the same sort of pitch count they put Hines Ward and Aaron Smith at the tail ends of their careers, but you have to worry about whether that will take the edge of him. Keep in mind, too, with the injury and a suspension, Harrison missed five games last year. He took a lot less snaps than he had in the previous four years.

Will he continue to be a three-down player?

I think that's an overlooked question right now. We'd be talking about this far more often had the Steelers made a first or second day investment in an outside linebacker in the draft. An off-season can change lots of things, but I didn't see anything in Worilds or Carter that made me seriously think about the possibility of one of them subbing for Harrison in particular situations, but I can't say that scenario is impossible, either. Saving him a few plays here and there will help him be effective down the stretch - the time of the year when the conditioned players begin to really dominate their peers.

Harrison nearly pulled the second Ravens game out for the Steelers on his own last year. But he looked absolutely gassed on the final drive. It's purely speculative and hindsight is 20-20, but would he have been able to make one more play had he taken seven or eight less snaps? We'll never know, but it will be interesting to see how the Steelers approach Harrison's involvement this year. That isn't to say they need to do something, just that they might.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Talkin’ Inside Linebackers: A Curious Approach to the Mack and the Buck


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As Jim Wexell pointed out on Twitter Wednesday morning, the report of a trade between the Steelers and the Jets nearly being consummated during April's draft says, among other things, the Steelers did not have Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower at the top of their board in terms of expected picks.

Had Bruce Irvin not been drafted by Seattle, the Steelers would have moved up to No. 16 in the draft, and selected OG David DeCastro. The Jets backed out of the deal, opting to take the second of two targeted players - DE Quinton Coples - at 16 instead of risking losing both he and Irvin by trading down to 24.

Hightower was eventually taken by New England, and the rest will be history later on down the line.

As it is, the Steelers did not draft a buck linebacker of the future, indicating they're comfortable with veteran Larry Foote while continuing to groom Stevenson Sylvester for the future.

What Are Some Traits Of a Mack and a Buck Linebacker?

Defensive terminology varies largely depending on the coach's scheme. In a traditional 4-3 defense, linebackers are commonly identified as Sam, Mike and Will - match the first letters of where they would line up in relation to the offensive formation - strong, middle and weak.

The buck linebacker in the Steelers' defense is more like the mike - or middle - linebacker. That position holds responsibility for defensive play calls, alignment and communication on the field. As far as between the whistle, the buck is commonly the player filling gaps against the run, along with short middle zone pass coverage.

The mack linebacker is more of a scrape-and pursue defender (partially resembling the role of a will linebacker in a 4-3 defense). He's responsible for the outside edge, and takes a wider angle to get outside the box and contain the run. A mack doesn't need to have that same downhill attacking style of the buck, and is commonly more athletic.

What Role Will Sean Spence Play?

Lawrence Timmons is the Steelers' starting mack linebacker, and LBs coach Keith Butler made no bones about stating third-round draft pick Sean Spence would be a mack linebacker.

What's interesting about Spence is how much smaller he is than Timmons. Of course, that's a major reason why Spence was a Day 2 draft pick and Timmons was taken 15th overall. But with Spence, the Steelers add an interesting dynamic to their defense.

While Spence will not be labeled as a safety, I think his future direction is, essentially, one of a roving safety.

Looking back at the Steelers' win over New England in Week 8 of 2011, we saw the Steelers playing in nickel and dime packages for most of the game. Sylvester left the field, along with NT Casey Hampton, but oftentimes, we saw SS Troy Polamalu down in the box with Ss Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy playing a Cover 2 shell.

Polamalu was essentially playing the mack linebacker position.

Obviously, Polamalu is going to be effective just about anywhere on the field, but bringing in a coverage-heavy linebacker who can provide at least some run support while getting the most out of the position in terms of coverage seems like a pretty effective strategy.

Spence is very fast and has a nose for the ball. He did well in coverage, and if he's pairing up with Timmons while the nose tackle leaves the field in lieu of another cornerback, the Steelers could have a very strong coverage unit.

I'm probably getting ahead of myself, Spence's playing time is obviously yet to be determined, but that kind of scenario, in a pass-happy league, could be the role they'll ask him to play in the future.

Is This Foote's Last Year?

With his contract expiring after this season, it most likely is. Foote is built in the mold of an old-school gap-filling middle linebacker, something that appears to be falling off in terms of priority in the league. Middle linebackers are coming in with much more coverage ability than they used to, and teams are looking for for three-down freakishly athletic LBs in the mold of Patrick Willis and Luke Kuechley.

Certainly, he may come back in 2013 to provide depth, but as for now, his highest and best use is really to serve as a continuity bridge between the old Steelers defense and the emerging youth among the front seven.

For as important as the buck linebacker has been for the Steelers over the past 10 years, they clearly said they feel the next buck is on the roster already - Sylvester. He's obviously not in the mold of Willis, but they appear to be surrounding him with outstanding athletes (i.e. Timmons and Spence).

How Good Is This Unit?

Last year is a really difficult sample to use when determining the overall success of the group. Timmons played out of place for much of the season. Farrior missed time as well. One of the most glaring weaknesses was their struggles in coverage in the base package, which is likely the biggest reason for both the release of Farrior and the selection of Spence. It's really just a different game than it was even three years ago.

Because of that, inside linebacker is one of the more intriguing positions to watch in training camp this year. How will they be utilized? In saying that, it's hard to gauge how good they are, because I see much of their roles adjusting more to offensive trends than staying strictly with what they've been in the past.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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State Of The Steelers Linebackers – Could Worilds Really Be Slated To Move Inside?


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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds is about to enter his third season since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. Several in Steeler Nation are still struggling to understand why inside linebackers Sean Lee or Navarro Bowman weren't the pick instead of Worilds. Linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked that very question during his press conference following the selection of Worilds and said, "We like those guys. We like Bowman, I especially like Sean Lee. But those guys are inside linebackers right now. And we have a pretty good quartet of guys at inside linebacker. Read more [...]

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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State Of The Steelers Linebackers – Could Worilds Really Be Slated To Move Inside?

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds is about to enter his third season since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. Several in Steeler Nation are still struggling to understand why inside linebackers Sean Lee or Navarro Bowman weren't the pick instead of Worilds. Linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked that very question during his press conference following the selection of Worilds and said, "We like those guys. We like Bowman, I especially like Sean Lee. But those guys are inside linebackers right now. And we have a pretty good quartet of guys at inside linebacker. Read more [...]

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers Linebacker Measurables Over The Years Compared To 2012 Top Linebackers

I was doing some research on measurables of linebackers that the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted over the years just for comparison purposes and I figured I would go ahead and make a post out of the results and add in the top linebackers this year for comparison purposes. Let me disclaimer here that combine and pro day results are numbers that should reflect what a scout sees on tape. You can't judge a player on how fast he runs and how well he jumps in shorts. The numbers are fun to play with, but tape of a player does not lie.

The numbers below show the best result a player had at either Read more [...]

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers


History Shows Inside Linebackers Ignored By Steelers In First Round Of Drafts


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You never know what will crop up in the comments section on this site, but I am proud to say that quite a few of the readers here are well informed when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The latest discussion centers around the Steelers potentially drafting Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round and as Greig eludes to in the comments section of another post, the Steelers have not drafted a true inside linebacker in the first round in the Super Bowl era.

Of course I know many of you will point to Lawrence Timmons, who the Steelers drafted in the first round of the 2007 Read more [...]

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2012 NFL Scouting Combine: Linebackers and Defensive Linemen Take the Stage

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The Combine continues plowing away (see what I did there?), and today's participants in the Underwear Olympics are the linebackers and the defensive linemen.

If the combination of offensive linemen and tight ends (Saturday) and the wide receivers and running backs (Sunday) was interesting, today will be downright riveting.

Lots of potential impact players will be identified today, and both figure to be priority positions for the Steelers in the upcoming draft.

We get to set our sights on a duo of inside/middle linebackers, Dont'a Hightower and Vontaze Burfict, as well as one hulking nose tackle from Memphis, Dontari Poe.

The Steelers are likely to speak with all three of these players, if they have not yet already done so. But more than anything, this is really the time to identify middle and later round picks.

You know the drill by now; if you see a guy you like, mention it in the comments, keep the discussion going. If there are some of interest to you, we've got our own Seton Hall and Steelers working to line up interviews to run in the very near future, so throw out some names, see if he can track them down.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain


Steelers’ Butler To Stay On As Linebackers Coach

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Steelers linebackers coach met with team officials Monday and, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, he will stay on as the team’s linebackers coach in 2012.

Butler was scheduled to meet with the Indianapolis Colts, but after meeting with Mike Tomlin and and Steelers president Art Rooney II, he has decided to stay in Pittsburgh.

Butler is in place to be the Steelers defensive coordinator whenever current defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau decides to retire. Speculation is Butler was given a raise Monday, further enticing him to stay in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are still searching for a new offensive coordinator. Former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was not offered a contract and recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

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