In 2013, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a missed field goal away from making the playoffs after a 2-6 start to the season. Pittsburgh finished the season 8-8, going 6-2 in their last 8 games. Had they not started 0-4 or had Antonio Brown tipped toed the sidelines against Miami, they wouldn’t have needed Kansas City to make that field goal. The reasons the team did so well in their last 8 games was improved offensive line play and an improved pass rush that recorded 21 of the teams 34 sacks in the last 8 games. If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to continue to do well and possibly end their 2 year post-season drought, the improved play by both units will have to continue.
Pittsburgh made many offseason moves to help them improve on their tremendous finish to the season. They let injury plagued outside linebacker, Lamarr Woodley go and decided to transition tag Jason Worilds. For the second time in as many years they drafted a linebacker with the first pick in the draft, bringing in an extremely athletic Ryan Shazier out of Ohio St. Shazier might be the most gifted linebacker out of Ohio State since Andy Katzenmoyer. For those of you who may not remember Katzenmoyer, heres a little clip for you.
Jarvis Jones was selected the year before Shazier. He had been projected as one of the top players in the draft but slid to the Steelers because of some health concerns. They also added veteran linebacker Arthur Moats through free agency from Buffalo, who can play both inside and outside linebacker. They also brought in ex-Pittsburgh Steelers player and fan favorite, Joey Porter, to help the young linebackers and add intensity to the position.
Jason Worilds finished the season leading the team in sacks with 8. The rest of the linebackers on the roster have 4 combined. Lawrence Timmons had 3 and Jarvis Jones had 1. Worilds was signed to a transition tag this year and is expected to put up big numbers by getting his first full season as the left outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Worilds did lose his starting job to Jarvis Jones in week 1 but injuries and a lack of production from Jones pushed Worilds into the lineup again. He flourished during his opportunity and was a big reason the Steelers had so much success in the latter part of the season. If the Steelers defense is to return to what Steelers fans are used to seeing, Worilds needs to have a productive year. Not only in sacks but also in tackles for loss, he only recorded 2 last year. If Worlids wants to be considered one of the best pass rushers in the league, a minimum of 13 sacks is expected. He also needs to be there in run support and achieve more than 2 tackles for loss.
Lawrence Timmons' veteran leadership will help this young linebacking corp to become a unit that this teams needs them to be. Timmons has played at a pro bowl level the last 2 years. He’s had 232 tackles, 9 sacks, and 5 interceptions in the last 2 years. He has been the most dependable linebacker on the Steelers since James Farrior retired. I expect to see more of the same from Timmons, he has always been a very well rounded linebacker that can basically do it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first year he makes the pro bowl and with the addition to Ryan Shazier in the middle, they will be able to use Timmons even more in blitz packages. Don’t be surprised if Timmons has 8 sacks this season.
Jarvis Jones was the first selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 draft and when he was named the week 1 starter everyone had high hopes that he would be a dominating outside linebacker. He didn’t produce enough and played undisciplined at times and lost his starting job to Jason Worilds. Although Jones struggled at times, he also displayed some great athleticism. He needs to get stronger to be able to hold the edge a little more, but his second year in the system will help him to develop and understand his position a little more. Jones can be a good compliment to Worilds at the other outside linebacking position. If he was able to get stronger and add a little weight Jones has the potential to be an outstanding linebacker. He’s a gifted player that could take this defense to the next level if he plays to his potential. A good season for Jones will be around 8-10 sacks, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he took the league by storm and led the Steelers in sacks.
Ryan Shazier is a gifted linebacker that brings speed and agility to the position that the Steelers haven’t had in awhile. One of the biggest issues the Steelers addressed in the off-season was team speed and they definitely addressed that situation, you can see my article about how they addressed it here www.fantasyknuckleheads.com/pittsburgh-steelers-dri-archer-speed-kills. Shazier ran a 4.38 at his pro-day and is exceptional in pass coverage. He instantly makes the defense better by returning Troy Polamalu to his more natural position on 3rd downs. Shazier also brings a disruptive force to the Steelers. During his career at Ohio State, Shazier recorded 44.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
Arthur Moats, Sean Spence, and Vince Williams will add quality depth. Sean Spence is another interesting player. He was a 3rd round draft pick in 2012 and suffered a gruesome leg injury during the preseason. He will finally be back and compete for a spot on the roster. He’s very athletic in the same mold as Shazier and Timmons and will hopefully find himself on the field this year.
In the past when the Pittsburgh Steelers were on top of the league on defense they used their pass rush to strike fear in their opponents. It helped the secondary come up with turnovers and allowed Dick Lebeau draw up his exotic blitzes and coverage’s. Whenever the Steelers defense was at its best, the linebackers carried the way. If the defense is to return to form, this young group of linebackers will have to carry them.