Tomlin Getting Offensive With His Outside Linebackers

By Matthew Marczi

Mike Tomlin was asked yesterday to comment on what insight he might have gained regarding the situation at outside linebacker based on what he’d seen in LaMarr Woodley’s return from a three-game absence, as well as in the linebacker rotation that saw Woodley play heavily on the right side for the first time in his career.

Tomlin first stressed that the team’s primary objective during this week’s game—as far as taking a look at the linebackers is concerned—was getting Woodley re-acclimated and getting some snaps back under his belt to see where he is not only from a performance standpoint, but also from a conditioning standpoint.

The head coach felt that Woodley showed fine in both regards from this past game, which now allows him and the coaching staff to ponder more adventurous ideas in future games.

“This week we may take a different approach and take an offensive approach in terms of how we deploy them—or maybe even deploy all of them at once”. Not that that would be new, of course. Tomlin and Dick LeBeau had already begun experimenting with using all three at once before Woodley’s injury.

When asked about moving Jason Worilds inside, Tomlin was quick to add that “any of the guys” were inside-capable, although he may have mistook the meaning of the question. Tomlin was of course referring to their ability, mainly, to blitz from an inside position, not to play inside linebacker on an every-down basis.

Tomlin drew a parallel between the predicament the Steelers find themselves in with the one the Bengals are now dealing with after the loss of Geno Atkins, saying that it forced them to be more versatile and to provide hybrid fronts.

He added that the Steelers could potentially use a similar hybrid front on certain pass-rushing occasions with their three outside linebackers—which, again, is something that they have already done in isolated instances.

The most interesting comment to me though was that Tomlin used the phrase “an offensive approach” in describing how they might use the outside linebackers going forward, which would perhaps be something new.

Worilds has clearly raised his stature significantly over the course of the past month and made him a more viable pass-rushing threat. Woodley has consistently provided pressure on the rush all season when healthy, even if his sack total doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

Adding Jones to the mix—who had been effective in running certain stunts to get Worilds free—opens up a new dimension in the Steelers’ defense that they may never have played with had they not been forced to explore those options because of injuries. While it is invention birthed by necessity, if the results are sufficiently impressive, it could be a new toy that LeBeau will continue to use in the future.

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