The calendar is quickly flipping through the month of April, and each day brings us closer and closer to the 2015 NFL Draft. By now, teams should have by and large accomplished everything that they have set out to do in terms of free agent roster building, which means that their sole focus is now preparing for the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally been able to clear the Troy Polamalu hurdle and settle into their pre-draft roster. We have broken down the Steelers’ moves at each position in free agency in terms of re-signings, free agent additions and subtractions, cuts, and retirements, so now we begin the final process: determining draft needs.
After taking a closer look at the defensive line, it’s time to turn the focus to the bread and butter of the 3-4 scheme, the linebackers. We’ll start with the position where the Steelers figure to be more comfortable heading into the draft, that being of course the inside linebacker spot.
The Steelers, of course, have over Mike Tomlin’s tenure invested here about as heavily as anywhere. Both this first and most recent first-round draft picks have been inside linebackers, and they will presumably be the starters this season.
Lawrence Timmons, it goes without saying, is the veteran of the group, entering his ninth season, and the second season since switching from the mack to the buck linebacker spot. I think it is safe to say that he made the transition fairly well, given that he made his first trip to the Pro Bowl for the 2014 season.
With so many older veterans leaving the team, Timmons is basically the old, grizzled veteran of the defensive side of the ball, and yet is still under 30. With that being true, however, it is more crucial than ever for him to assert himself as a leader in addition to continuing his above the line play on the field.
Second-year player Ryan Shazier could arguably use some of that leadership as he makes his second attempt to be a starter, after his rookie campaign was derailed by injuries. Timmons obviously has a lot of experience playing the mack spot, so his knowledge of what he wants the mack to do will be invaluable to the pair working well together.
The position doesn’t end there, of course, as the Steelers have two more players behind them with starting experience in this defense with Sean Spence and Vince Williams. Both of them rotated depending on the defensive package last season while Shazier was injured, and largely held on to the spot even when Shazier returned late in the year.
Behind them are yet still two more young linebackers who figure at least to be able to offer strong special teams contributions. Terence Garvin has already more than proven himself in that area, but second-year player Jordan Zumwalt is also expected to be able to be a special teams player.
The fact that Zumwalt will have a hard time even making the team stresses a broader point, that being simply that the Steelers really don’t need to do anything at all to address the inside linebacker position. Beyond that, it doesn’t even appear to be a very good year for the position in terms of value in the draft.