Nov 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) during the third quarter of a game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
LOLB: Arthur Moats
LILB: Ryan Shazier
RILB: Lawrence Timmons
ROLB: Jarvis Jones
The Pittsburgh Steelers are yet another team with questionable linebacking depth but one solid linebacker. For Pittsburgh, the solid linebacker is obviously the team’s right inside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons. Pittsburgh’s defense is an absolute disaster, but its linebacking corps is the position where the Steelers have the most potential. With Arthur Moats, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree, the Steelers’ linebacking corps could go from average to great in no time.
Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) takes the field during player introductions against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Arthur Moats, a longtime Buffalo Bill, joined the Steelers in early 2014 and started nine of the team’s 16 games last season. He isn’t a flashy player, with only nine sacks in five years pro. But Moats is an above average run-stuffer and a serviceable cover backer. Pittsburgh certainly hopes that Moats can make a bigger impact in 2015, building on his 2014 season in which he recorded 23 tackles, two forced fumbles and the six sacks noted earlier.
Ryan Shazier was one of the most hyped-up players after the 2014 draft due to his speed and instincts, with NFL experts comparing the Ohio State product to Steelers great Troy Polamalu. Shazier, however, did not live up to his hype, accumulating just 36 tackles and a pass defense in nine games (five starts). Despite his lack of durability and questionable play, experts are again dubbing Shazier a breakout candidate. With a new defensive coordinator, we’ll see if Shazier can break out like Steelers fans are hoping.
Linebackers in the NFL are frequently underappreciated and constantly underrated, Lawrence Timmons being no exception. Timmons is quick and instinctive; he doesn’t seem to have a glaring weakness in any aspect of his game. He racked up 132 tackes in 2014, along with two sacks and pass defense. These stats aren’t jaw-dropping but they’re still impressive. And Timmons’ individual statistics aren’t the only thing that speaks for his talent; fans appreciate him enough that they elected him to the Pro Bowl last season. With 748 tackles, 28 sacks, 32 pass defenses, nine interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his eight years pro, Timmons has been consistently productive for the Steelers. If another player in the linebacking corps can step up, Timmons could have an even better season in 2015.
Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ first-round selection in the 2013 draft, has been somewhat of a disappointment to Steelers fans so far. He’s only started 11 games in two seasons pro, recording just 58 tackles and three sacks. Penciled in as the starting right outside linebacker, according to OurLads.com, Jones has a lot to prove and big shoes to fill. With his predecessor, James Harrison, still on the roster, Jones will need to absorb all of the information he can from the Steelers great before Harrison retires. If Harrison can help mentor Jones, the Georgia product could end up having a tremendous career as a Steeler. If he still isn’t able to figure things out, Jones’ predecessor could end up back in the Steelers’ starting lineup, something Pittsburgh likely doesn’t want to see.
James Harrison is still an above-average player, but the Steelers don’t want to see him playing. Rather, they would like to see their young players emerge and prove that they belong in the Steelers’ starting lineup. If the Steelers can accomplish this, their defense will drastically improve.