It’s always interesting how some teams can turnover their roster through the decades and still make one position grouping come to mind when uttering the name. Pittsburgh Steelers: Linebacker.
Whether it’s been squads under Chuck Knoll in the 1970s, Bill Cowher in the 1990s-early aughts or the Mike Tomlin-Dick LeBeau regime over roughly the past decade, the Steelers rarely fail to re-stock the linebacking position to their elite standards. Pittsburgh faces that daunting task yet again here in 2013 with the departure of OLB James Harrison and aging of ILB Larry Foote.
Jason Worilds was drafted as the next in line a few years ago, but enters his contract year having yet to pan out. He gets competition with 2013 NFL Draft first rounder Jarvis Jones on the right edge of the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. However, it may take until late in training camp for us to see how the changing of the guard will unfold.
“I think it’s a daunting task for rookies to start in any system and play and perform well,” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Obviously it is difficult when you have established veteran players like we have with a lot of continuity. We are not going to close the door on him or anyone else on earning an opportunity, and that is what this is about. This is about people taking advantage of opportunities, so he’ll be given that.”
The re-signing of 32-year-old Foote comes as especially crucial given he’s both a veteran presence and provides another LB with 2012 draft pick Sean Spence suffering career-threatening nerve damage. He’ll team with Lawrence Timmons in the middle, who combined for more sacks, hits and hurries than any inside backer in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus, and LOLB LaMarr Woodley.
How the Worilds-Jones position battle unfolds could determine whether the Steelers improve upon a year that, while not a disaster defensively, did see their Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average mark hit its lowest point since hiring LeBeau in 2004.