Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers threw out a bit of a surprise when they elected to carry only three outside linebackers on their final 53-man roster, and only eight in total, with five being inside linebackers. The coaches have claimed that Terence Garvin has some inside-outside versatility, but he figures to be limited to special teams.
Since that time, the front office has really stocked up on linebackers, carrying 14 in total, with six on the inside and eight on the outside, the majority of which have at least some type of pedigree, such as being a draft pick or spending time on the practice squad.
The roster numbers broke a funny way last season, as it saw the team somewhat uncharacteristically carry not only six wide receivers, but also 11 defensive backs—later 12 for a while—which helps explain why they carried only eight linebackers last year. Given the investments that they have put into the position over the course of this offseason, however, I can’t help but wonder if carrying 10 this time is a real possibility.
There figures to be about four locks at both the inside and outside positions already, the majority of which are incumbents from last year’s roster. On the inside are Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, and Sean Spence, all of whom received significant playing time.
For the outside linebacker position, returning are Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones, as well as James Harrison, who re-signed with the team three games into the season. The Steelers drafted Bud Dupree in the first round this year, and is an obvious roster lock.
Beyond that is a group of six more players vying for anywhere between zero and two spots on the 53-man roster, including Garvin and Jordan Zumwalt inside and Anthony Chickillo, Howard Jones, Shawn Lemon, and Shayon Green outside.
Of that group, only Green seems to be a player that would have to absolutely shock in order to have a chance to make the roster. It seems that the others all at least have a reasonable case to make for themselves, provided of course that they perform well on special teams, which will be taken as a given if the Steelers carry extra players at a position.
Zumwalt is an interesting case as a former (late-round) draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. This will essentially be his redshirt freshman season, meaning that he doesn’t have the playing experience, but he has some of the knowledge.
Chickillo is a rookie draft pick, which is always an advantage for finding a roster spot. They wouldn’t have selected him if they didn’t like him, and there hasn’t been anything to show that it was a mistake to draft him yet. Jones, meanwhile, was on the practice squad all season last year and has added mass since then.
Lemon has some professional pedigree after turning it up in the CFL last year for 13 sacks and eight forced fumbles. If he can manage to transfer that to the NFL, he will obviously have a shot. Garvin, meanwhile, is arguably the team’s best special teams player.
Were I to make my own projection, based on my expectations, I would figure Garvin as being the ninth and final linebacker due to his proven special teams track record.
But the Steelers did add competition here for a reason, and with a new defensive coordinator who was formerly a linebackers coach, perhaps we might see the team throw a curve ball leaning the opposite way this year.