Lawrence Timmons might be the most under-appreciated player in the NFL. He’s the best defensive player on one of the NFL’s most famous teams, yet, he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves when you hear pundits, others talk about the best inside linebackers in the game.
The Steelers go into training camp Friday with great excitement regarding their inside linebacker position. The Steelers have long sought a potential star linebacker to team next to Timmons and they believe they might eventually have that player with the selection of Ryan Shazier in the first round of this years NFL draft.
With Shazier being such a freakish athlete and Timmons having all the tools, these two are going to be fun to watch. Aside from Shazier, there’s certainly intrigue around Sean Spence who looked very good in OTA’s, showing impressive explosiveness. If his knees can hold up when the hitting starts, the Steelers will arguably have the most athletic combination of inside linebackers in the game.
Vince Williams No. 3 on the depth chart, doesn’t have the upside of Spence but provides adequate depth.
While the inside linebacker position is trending up, there’s won’t be a position under the microscope more on the defensive side of the ball than at outside linebacker.
For a defense that managed just 34 sacks last season, the pressure will be on Jason Worilds (Steelers second highest paid player making $9.754 million this season), from day 1, and 2013 first round pick Jarvis Jones.
Jones, 24, had an extremely disappointing rookie season where he recorded just one sack in 646 defensive snaps. His lone sack came on Nov 10 against the Buffalo Bills when he beat a falling down C.J. Spiller for the sack.
When the Steelers drafted Jones, GM Kevin Colbert said at the time the Steelers were thrilled that Jones ran a 4.9 forty at his Pro Day because it was the only reason he fell to the Steelers at No. 17.
However, Jones lack of athleticism is somewhat concerning with him. While he’s not a great athlete, he’s also not built like a James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley who both possessed so much strength and power at the point of attack, something Jones desperately lacked last season. He doesn’t have the tools that a Lawrence Timmons can fall back on but the positive with Jones is he’s a very coachable player and his instincts have always been impressive.
When Jones was drafted it was immediately clear he needed to get stronger and a year later that remains a question mark. Jones claimed during OTA’s he got much stronger during the off-season but has not bulked up and gained much weight. Steelers coaches have made it known to Jones he needs to get rid of his basketball physique.
The Steelers had the luxury of waiting four years for Jason Worilds to develop before he broke out. That don’t have that luxury with Jones who is being counted on to breakout in 2014.
As for Worilds, there’s also some level of wait and see where he has to prove it for an entire season. He finished last season with 8 sacks and 63 tackles in just 10 starts and broke out in his final eight games when he took over the starting LOLB job from an injured LaMarr Woodley and never gave the starting job back.
Over his final eight games, Worilds collected 7 sacks and 20 QB hits.
The question with Worilds might not be his ability, it’s whether he can stay healthy over an entire season.
He has been frequently injured throughout his career with knee, wrist injuries among them, was barely able to participate in OTAs this off-season due to a calf and thigh injury.
Behind Worilds and Jones on the depth chart is veteran Arthur Moats who had 54 tackles and no sacks in 16 games, 293 defensive snaps last season for the Bills. Chris Carter who is on the bubble to make the team, is 4th on the depth chart at OLB and has no career sacks.
6th round pick Jordan Zumwalt will give a strong push for a roster spot but is not ready to contribute whether Jones or Worilds go down.
Former Steelers star linebacker James Harrison remains unsigned and has been lobbying for a return to Pittsburgh, and while Steelers coaches have given some consideration to it, management has been lukewarm to the possibility as of now.