While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Will Lawrence Timmons rebound from a down year as a coverage linebacker?
One of the more exciting characteristics of Lawrence Timmons entering the starting lineup way back when at inside linebacker was the perceived increased ability for the Steelers to match up with the day’s leading tight ends and running backs.
By the turn of the previous decade, the old starters were beginning to wear down, and it became a routine for fans to express their outrage about so and so being unable to cover x running back out of the backfield.
With Timmons’ explosiveness and athleticism, he proved early in his starting career to be a good option in coverage, to the point where he began to enter his name into the discussion as one of the better complete inside linebackers in the league.
He does have the statistics to back it up, as well, with nine interceptions in his career, as well as 32 passes defensed. This is all in addition to being a thumper in the run game, routinely totaling over 100 tackles, and bringing a presence as a pass rusher, with 28 sacks in his career.
Even though he earned his first Pro Bowl nomination in 2014, however, it wasn’t his best season. His tackling was spotty at times, particularly early in the year. While he was a force against the run, he was taken advantage of in the receiving game a number of times.
In the season opener, he was beaten deep down the field by Jordan Cameron, where a better throw might have scored a touchdown. The following week, in between puking on the field, Timmons was busy missing tackles after the catch. More examples followed throughout the season, though he largely stabilized.
Despite the down year, in which he failed to intercept a pass and hardly got a hand on any balls thrown in his direction, he should have a more consistent 2015, because his surroundings should be more consistent. He will have become acclimated to his new spot in the defense, and he shouldn’t be rotating so frequently with three different inside linebackers next to him.
If Ryan Shazier or Sean Spence are in the starting lineup, they will likely draw their share of coverage responsibilities anyway, which may give Timmons more opportunities to rush the passer, which is a role that he values.