Friday, March 7, 2014

A Look At Steelers Linebackers And Post-Combine Draft Possibles

 Do one thing and do it better than anyone else - Anonymous

Blitzburgh. Linebacker, Inc. Whatever you want to call them, the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebackers have terrorized NFL offenses for much of the last quarter of a century. 

The Steelers have run the 3-4 defense continually since 1982, but returned to a particular degree of excellence in 1992 by running a zone-blitzing scheme built around its linebackers. 

Hardy Nickerson. Greg Lloyd. Kevin Greene. Chad Brown. Levon Kirkland. Jason Gildon. Earl Holmes. Joey Porter. James Farrior. Larry Foote. Clark Haggans. James Harrison. LaMarr Woodley. Lawrence Timmons. It's an incredible list of names that any team would love to have as part of its history. 

What is more impressive is that those names only cover the last 25 years - and it isn't even a complete list. There have been some, Mike Vrabel comes to mind, who were lost amongst the depth and left in free agency.

Now, with the aforementioned veteran inside linebacker Foote being released, a new corps of backers takes the field led by Timmons, along with second-year men OLB Jarvis Jones and Buck ILB Vince Williams and new starter OLB Jason Worilds. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2014/03/steelers-extend-miller-polamalu-cut.html

The Steelers overall, though, are thin at a position that used to be a factory unto itself. 

To reignite a flame under the current regime is a man who has never been accused of being politically correct, Joey Porter. - http://tinyurl.com/n7zf6k3

More is needed, though, to return the team to form. Depth is needed as well. Especially among the outside guys. 

Whereas the ILBs have definite game experience and depth, via Kion Wilson (former failed starter but solid on special teams), Terrance Garvin (saw increased playing time after excelling on ST) and Stevenson Sylvester (provides depth if nothing else), the OLB only boasts fourth-year also-ran Chris Carter. 

Not one of those names scares anyone, nor are any of them true "next man up" candidates. And even though Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette's Gerry Dulac says 3rd-round 2012 NFL Draft choice Sean "Spence is significantly ahead of where the Steelers thought he would be at this point," that still isn't a guarantee. - http://tinyurl.com/mqhfpns

Therefore, Linebacker, Inc. will definitely draft a linebacker, the question is, "When will they pull the trigger?"

It is most likely that at least three or four of the top names - Khalil Mack, C.J. Mosley, Anthony Barr, Chris Borland, Ryan Shazier - will be gone by the time the Steelers draft at No. 15. C.J. Mosley, however, has been linked to the them. Because, while Williams was a surprise for a 6th rounder last season, there is always room for improvement. The two-time first-team All-American selection (2012-2013) and 2013 Butkus Award winning Mosley, though who didn't perform all events at the NFL's Beefcake Bonanza, would be just that. 

Also possible, but not probable, is Ohio State's Ryan Shazier who ran an unofficial 4.36/40 at his Pro Day on Friday. Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain wrote about the chances the Steelers may look his way if his name hadn't been called through the 14th pick. - http://tinyurl.com/k6jeq25

Further possible prospects:
Dee Ford, defensive end/OLB, Auburn: 6'2" 244 LBs, 4.53/40, 225-LB Bench Press - 29 reps, 29 Tackles, 14.5 Tackles for Loss, 10.5 Sacks (2nd round) - Will have to gain some bulk to be a consistent terror on the field, and must build his repertoire of moves, but has the frame to build upon and the requisite raw talent to deepen his bag of tricks. - http://youtu.be/kSxiVqlYFY8

Kyle Van Noy (pictured), OLB, BYU: 6'3", 243 LBs, 4.71/40, Bench - 21 reps, 68 Tckl, 17.5 TFL, 4 sacks (2nd round) - The BYU defensive coaching staff spent a week with the Steelers last spring. I don't know if that will factor in at all, but the Steelers brass was effusive when speaking about his character. He has an excellent physique and plenty of upside. 

He is no one-hit-wonder, either. According to WalterFootball.com, in 2012, "Van Noy was the most impressive player on the BYU defense and that includes the 2013 NFL Draft's fifth overall-pick, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah." With no Combine numbers, and before his Pro Day is set, here's how he looked against top-level competition. - http://youtu.be/9EDaiV0VoBM

Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama: 6'6", 257 LBs, 4.69/40, 33 Tckl, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks (4th round) - Hubbard is a solid mid-round pick who could start in the special teams part of the game as he learns. He started at Sam linebacker for the Crimson Tide and did fairly well at the Senior Bowl. But the quick and physical OLB definitely fits well into a 3-4 defense. 

Late-round gem:
Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State: 6'1.5", 260 LBs, 4.86/40, 80 Tckl, 20.5 TFL, 12 sacks (6th-7th round) - In our piece that introduced Joey Porter to the coaching staff, we stated that his "tutelage, assisting the defensive coaches with the team's outside pass rushers, produced significant results for the 2013 Rams..." Including helping Barrett in "winning MW Defensive Player of the Year honors." With Peezy's continued tutelage, this could eventually prove itself to be a steal. - http://youtu.be/gcGMgbc_DRU

The talent level at the position drops off after the fourth round. So, outside of Barrett or maybe a Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA - 5th-6th round), if the Steelers want a linebacker for more of an immediate impact to help put the Blitz back in the Burgh, they'll do it before then.