The Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran inside linebacker Brandon Johnson to the roster on Wednesday and immediately the status of 2010 fifth round draft pick Stevenson Sylvester is called into question.
The first thing that you have to keep in mind is that the Steelers are apparently down three linebacker bodies at mini-camp as James Harrison, Jason Worilds and Sylvester are sidelined right now. Harrison reportedly has fluid on his knee and Worilds is recovering from off-season wrist surgery. The nature of the Sylvester injury is still unknown at this time, but he reportedly missed some time during the OTA sessions in addition. Add all of this up and you can see why Johnson, who was worked out by the Steelers back in early May, was signed.
Sylvester has seen just over 70 snaps on defense during his first two seasons in the league, many of which have come late in blow-out games. 35 of those 70 plus snaps came against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in weeks 8 and 9 last season due to injuries to the Steelers linebacker corps, and the Utah product did not flash in either of those two games. Sylvester has contributed on special teams during his first two seasons, but that is about it.
Early in the off-season the Steelers released veteran James Farrior and it was thought that Sylvester would possibly be a lock to back up veteran Larry Foote as the strong-side linebacker in 2012. Following the selection of inside linebacker Sean Spence in the third round of the draft back in April, linebacker coach Keith Butler was asked if Sylvester has long-term starting potential. “I need to see more from him,” said Butler. “He might think he does, but he has to convince me first.” Butler also noted that his young linebackers missed valuable time last off-season because of the lockout. “What probably hurt our young guys last year, (Stevenson and Worilds) those two guys didn’t have OTAs. Most of the time young linebackers get better their second year because of the OTAs,” said Butler. “The first year, they come in and they go through a complex system. They’re having to think out there, and as a consequence they don’t move very fast. They’re thinking. The next year they come in and it’s night and day for them because of repetition. They go, “Oh, that’s what we did. That makes sense now.” They move much faster. Well, these guys didn’t have the benefit of those OTAs, and we had to get them in training camp and they were like rookies. Instead of having the OTAs and the minicamp again and then the training camp, they just had training camp. We took out two-thirds of that process for them to learn by having the lockout. That hurt them quite a bit in my opinion, and Jason Worilds really came on for us at the end of the year. I’m sure that Sly will do the same thing this year.”
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert was asked about Sylvester last Thursday when OTA sessions wrapped up, and if he would compete with Foote for the starting BUCK position this season. “Yeah, we have Larry and we have Stevenson Sylvester, who had a good rookie year, especially on special teams,” said Colbert. Last year he had a little bit of a knee problem that nagged him and held him back for the season. They\’ll come in and they\’ll compete for that spot. Of course Larry is a veteran, and he will be ahead of him right now, but Sly will definitely give him some competition, because like I said, the rookie year we were kind of excited in him, but last year he had a couple of setbacks.”
The comments that Colbert made were pretty generic, just as one would expect, but he did reveal that Sylvester had a knee problem that nagged him last year. Sylvester also showed up on the injury report with calf injury last year, but he was only inactive for the week 12 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
While Sylvester has made his mark on special teams, the recently signed Johnson is also known as a superb special teams player, and was even the special teams captain at one time when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson, while not regarded as a full-time starter type of player, has played both the strong-side and weak-side over the course of his career. Also not to be forgotten is inside linebacker Mortty Ivy, who reportedly had a good training camp with the Steelers last year and former Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks, who Butler noted last Thursday as a player that had caught his eye during the OTA sessions.
While roster moves, OTA reports and injury reports in June have to be taken with a grain of salt, you have to think that Sylvester has secured absolutely nothing in regard to a 53 man roster spot this year with training camp just a little more than a month away. Missing precious time on the field because of an injury does not help his cause and he needs to make sure he is 100% healthy by the time the team reports to Latrobe. It\’s not time to throw him out with bath water just yet, but his situation certainly is worth paying attention to once training camp begins.