Littered across the board on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster are linebackers of all shapes and sizes, whether it be the muscle-bound James Harrison, the speedy Ryan Shazier or the 6-foot-4, 269-pound rookie marvel of nature, Bud Dupree. It’s a position probably more loaded than the fries you order at your favorite restaurant, but one thing that stands out is something that no other team across the league has, and that’s four first rounders at the position, including three of their last four drafts.
“It might be a lot of pressure, but it’s all about playing football,” ’14 first rounder Jarvis Jones said, according to Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “At the end of the day, the first-round pick stuff doesn’t matter. It’s about doing your job and being productive.”
Production, for Jones, is something the team will undoubtedly be seeking, as his first two seasons in the league have been a mixed bag of both growing pains as a rookie, followed up with the injury bug in his sophomore campaign. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who’s the elder statesman of the group at 29 years of age, knows that if the team wants to get back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, Jones will need to play a pivotal role in generating the type of pressure fans are used to seeing from the outside linebackers in Pittsburgh.
“Right now, we’re trying to build a foundation,” said Timmons, according to Paulk. “We have to develop the kind of camaraderie that will make our defense great. We have to work together as a unit to be one chord, one sound.”
That ultimate goal will be achieved a lot faster if ’15 first rounder, Dupree, can translate his freakish athleticism, including a 4.56 40 and 42-inch vertical, onto the football field. In a perfect world, Dupree would step right into the vacated shoes of the retired Jason Worilds, and provide an immediate pass rushing presence. He’s already making an impression on his teammates, including Timmons.
“His physical presence is unbelievable,” Timmons said about Dupree, according to Paulk. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem adjusting to this league.”
He’s reportedly been soaking up all the information he can in OTA’s and if he can grasp the playbook, he may see the field earlier than expected.
“I’ve never seen anything like what we have at linebacker,” Dupree said, according to Paulk. “I have to stay humble and grounded. Sometimes, you have to go out of your way to do things that fit you.”
With the veteran Harrison still chomping at the bit to get onto the field, he’ll give the rookie all he can handle.
Then there’s last year’s first rounder, Shazier, who also battled injuries in his rookie season, and many pundits accused him of being too frail for the position. According to the Beaver County Times, he has bulked up this offseason, gaining seven pounds while maintaining his sideline-to-sideline 4.4 speed, and noting he has a bone to pick in terms of proving something to his teammates.
When the front office invested so heavily in the position, obviously the idea was to have all four of them on the field together, and now that the physical part of the game is catching up and the mental part is slowing down, the results on the field should speak for themselves. With so much scrutiny on the secondary and a fairly thin defensive line, the linebackers should be looked at as a pillar or building block of the defense, not only in 2015 but in years to come.