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Preseason Expectations: Inside Linebacker

Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp.

After looking at the outside linebackers last time, we’ll move to the inside group today.

Lawrence Timmons: One of the few guys on the team you don’t have to worry about. It isn’t that he is mistake-free but they’re generally uncommon and never show a pattern. Like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, or the others I’ve talked about, just stay healthy through the preseason.

Ryan Shazier: Unlike Timmons, there’s a laundry list of things to look for. I’ve written the most critical is his ability to compartmentalize. Play fast while using good technique. Flowing down the line while using his hands and getting his arms extended in order to stay “clean.” Want to see him get through a whole training camp this year when last year’s was interrupted by his knee injury. Maximize his reps, get himself in the best position as possible for Week One.

Sean Spence: As we talked about on The Terrible Podcast, the fact Spence was able to play last year is a credit to him and his perseverance. A lot of his issues come with experience. False steps, drifting out of his zone in coverage, just being generally slow to react. Hopefully we see that cleaned up after his first season getting to focus on the game, not rehab.

Vince Williams: I’ve been a fan of his game and realize he’s gotten some bad breaks. Thrust onto the field as a 6th round rookie with inconsistent snaps that didn’t let him grow. Then he got shuffled back after the team drafted Shazier. The biggest criticism from fans is a lack of ability to drop into coverage, something I don’t fully agree with, but seeing that more in the preseason will help dispel that narrative.

Terence Garvin: He’s a big asset on special teams and along with Williams, a tone setter on that unit. But I don’t think there’s much more I can see out of him. He’s not moving up the depth chart and since he’s already a valuable special teamer, it’s not like I need to see him prove himself in that facet either.

Jordan Zumwalt: He has to stay healthy this year. Can’t make the club from the tub. Another year of standing on the sidelines is going to get him cut. Sixth rounders don’t get that much leeway. His UCLA tape suggested a poor athlete but a hard hitter and the type of player who could cut his teeth on special teams. That’s his best chance and he’ll have to do exceptionally well to beat out Garvin, the only possibility of him making the 53 man roster. If he can’t do that, he’ll have to try and capture a spot on the practice squad.

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