Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Who Will Replace James Harrison?

First off, let us be honest by stating that no one this season will actually replace James Harrison. Whomever the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting right outside linebacker will be, the idea of replacing Harrison is a stretch. He won't be replaced, only succeeded.

That said, it's a close to a foregone conclusion that the player to get the starting nod will fourth-year man, Jason Worilds. Because no rookie linebacker in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's system would start right away, he is the only viable solution. By a long shot.

Fellow Steelers linebacker Chris Carter was ineffective and unimpressive in the time he was on the field, garnering just eight tackles and no sacks. Undrafted rookie Adrian Robinson showed real promise in Training Camp and into preseason, but the raw outside linebacker rarely saw field action. Stevenson Sylvester, who was used both inside and outside during the preseason, was also ineffective. The only player who made anyone believe he was ready to take over was Worilds. Not that it has been anything close to an easy ride.

Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly made some very salient points on Sunday regarding him when he tweeted that "Steelers LB Jason Worilds {has} yet to have a true and full offseason (2010 rookie year, 2011 lockout, 2012 wrist injury)." And if we take that and run with it, it could be sound reason for not considering Worilds as a risk. Reason that Kaboly backed up with another fact. (brackets ours)

"Steelers LB Jason Worilds played 999 snaps in 3 seasons or equivalent of one full season and has 10 career sacks," Kaboly said. Now, this extrapolation doesn't automatically mean that he'll produce that way next season, but it's definitely a point in the right direction.

As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out in a recent article: "There may be reasons why Worilds has made little impact in his three seasons, including a {previously mentioned} wrist injury last year and playing behind Pro Bowl players Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. But, in the normal course of events, the Steelers would let Harrison go and turn to Worilds, just as they let Joey Porter go in 2007 and turned to Harrison." (brackets ours)

Also, just as they turned to Porter after (another) Jason Gildon was leaving. So, this was unfortunately business as usual. Because, though the Steelers suffer a cap penalty "dead money" hit of $4.93 million dollars, the move saved $5.105 million dollars against this year's Salary Cap, and all $9.04 million against the 2014 Cap. Bill Parise, the Silverback's agent, says the 'door isn't necessarily closed.' - http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/03/11/james-harrisons-agent-steelers-havent-closed-door/

Getting back to Worilds, as Kaboly and Pro Football Focus further point out, "Worilds finished the season with five sacks despite only rushing the passer 175 times. By comparison, {LaMarr} Woodley {had} four sacks in 245 pass rushes." All encouraging statistics that seem to be the groundwork for Worilds' taking Harrison's spot. (brackets ours)

All except for two things: Worilds plays decidedly better on the left side - Woodley's side - and there is no depth behind them.

Does that mean that Worilds won't be effective at all on the right side? Does it mean that maybe Woodley could/would possibly move over to the right side to accommodate? Fellow Steelers blog site SteelBlitz.com explored this possibility and provides reasoning for an affirmative on the latter question. - http://tinyurl.com/aqecu83

As for depth, there is none. Aside from the linebackers mentioned above, the other linebackers on the roster are all inside: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Marshall McFadden, Brian Rolle and Kion Wilson. So, from where will eventual depth come? April's NFL Draft.

Below are a list of prospective picks for the OLB position who can be gotten approximately from rounds one through four. If It Ain't Steel has already highlighted some, so you'll recognize those names. Where applicable, we've also provided the link to the write-up where we featured them:

EZEKIEL ANSAH - BYU: 1st round -- A raw, but intelligent and impressive physical specimen. At 6’7″ 270 lbs., Ziggy can play either OLB position, as well as defensive end at the next level. He ran an an equally impressive 4.62/40 at the 2013 NFL Combine. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/01/fixing-steelers-starts-with-drafting.html

DION JORDAN - Oregon: 1st round -- Jordan ran a 3-way tie for the best 40-yard dash time among defensive linemen at the NFL Combine. A lingering shoulder injury kept him out of the weight room much of the season, but the 6'6" 245 pounder ran a 4.53/40. The surgery and rehab needed to repair the torn labrum carries with it a timetable of “three to four months,” according to Jordan. He played DE and OLB in college, rushing the passer and dropping back, and has received a lot of attention from 3-4 defensive NFL teams.

BARKEVIOUS MINGO - LSU: 1st round -- The 6'5" 240-pound DE/OLB had 15 quarterback hurries and five sacks last season. He also was the second part of the three-way tie at the Combine with a 4.53/40.

JAMIE COLLINS - Southern Mississippi: 2-3 round -- With an 11'7" broad jump at the Combine, Collins literally leaped onto this list as a potential prospect. The 6-3, 250-pound OLB also had a 41.5-inch vertical. And per CBSSports.com, "an NFL source {they} talked to said it's hard to find guys who are 6-2-plus and 240 who can really play, adding that "the size paradigm for NFL LBs is changing because it forces the personnel folks and coaches to project college DEs to be stand-up off the ball LBs." Collins, though, sure looked like he could be one of those guys.

COREY LEMONIER (pronounced Lemon-wah) - Auburn: 3-4 round -- The 6'3" 255-pound DE/OLB was the third in the tie to run a 4.53/40 at his position. He was visited at the Auburn Pro Day on March 5th by Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. Butler offered encouraging feedback, saying that Lemonier "could play some linebacker." - http://collegefootball.ap.org/article/auburns-lemonier-prepping-nfl-position-move

GERALD HODGES - PENN STATE: 4th round -- Per CBSSports.com, the 6'1" 243 pounder was "a starter in all 25 games the past two years," and "was No. 4 in the Big Ten with 109 tackles....he led the team with seven pass breakups and was tied for second on the squad with two interceptions. He also ranked third with 8.5 tackles for loss, while adding one forced fumble and one sack."

SIO MOORE - UCONN: 5-6 round -- Per NFL.com, "Moore notched 72 tackles (15.5 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and 11 pass breakups....Disciplined linebacker who follows through on his assignments and maintains his gap responsibilities prevent cutbacks. Also a solid tackler, able to break down and securely wrap the ballcarrier’s torso or leg for minimal yards after the catch." Also, with a 4.62/40 at the Combine for Moore, keep this 6'1" 245-pound stud on your radar.

One good thing about all of these players is that either "athletic," "nasty," or "mean" is used to describe each of them. Which are qualities that Harrison possessed in spades and therefore something else that the Steelers will have to replace.