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Preseason Expectations: Outside 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.

In this edition, we’ll cover what I’m looking for from the outside linebackers.

James Harrison: Starting with the veteran. Obviously there isn’t anything for Harrison to prove and if there was, I wouldn’t have the nerve to say it. The only thing I’m looking for him, and this applies for the entire year, is to stay healthy. I assume a big reason for his knee issues last year was entering the season cold but you still have to factor in his age, no matter how much he tries to defy it.

Arthur Moats: Remember Moats is only in his second year as a 3-4 OLB, playing a different side, and replacing a guy who, like him or not, played 99% of the time in 2014. I’ve always said and still maintain that Moats isn’t a sexy pass rusher and that’s alright. Speed to power kind of guy who won’t take himself out of the play by trying to run up the arc. He’ll be on the strong side though this year, raising the importance of the ability to play the run. Will be dealing with a tight end much more often and I’m curious to see how he handles that.

Jarvis Jones: Bend. Still doesn’t have it. I feel better about him this year than last, as you should, and want to point out I don’t think strength is really an issue anymore. But can he dip and win the edge? He isn’t going to on pure athleticism alone. Jones is an average athlete and everyone realizes that. So his technique and flexibility are going to have to be at their best for him to be a threat. That’s what I’ll continue to look for.

This is a critical third year for him and the microscope is justifiably on him.

Bud Dupree: Obviously, you want to see everything. But as I recently wrote about, with him, it’s all the small things and nuances of the position. Some of that will be difficult for us outsiders to see. It isn’t always obvious when a player makes a mistake. Those are the things that’ll tell the coaches how much playing time the rookie deserves.

He’ll have some good, albeit perhaps brief matchups in the preseason. Dupree will face guys like Bryan Bulaga and Jeremy Parnell in the preseason. Nice litmus tests for him.

Howard Jones: I don’t know what we’re going to get with this kid but I’m excited for him. I figure his weight is in a much better place and the 238 figure listed on the team’s website probably isn’t accurate. He came into the league at 235; I doubt the team only asked him to gain three pounds. 245 seems more likely.

Does he have the strength to avoid getting pushed up the arc? Can he take on and shed blockers in the run game? Does he seem fluid, comfortable in coverage? He’s been out of the spotlight for a full season and I’m expecting to see a noticeable improvement in his game. Year one to two is an exponential difference.

Anthony Chickillo: He’s gotten his weight down to about 254 pounds. That’s important. Have to play fast at this level and this position. It goes with my next point. How well and comfortable is Chickillo playing in space? Getting out on the edge, dropping into coverage, reading his run/pass keys. Is he slow? Does he false step? All that is important in the transition and are understandable growing pains. If he can avoid them, he’ll really make a push for the roster.

Shawn Lemon: A lot has been said about this guy. I have a hard time believing most of it because a lot of fans are just going off of highlight reels. I’ll pass. He has the most football under his belt, and as I’ve said before, really learned the importance of playing detail-oriented football last year in the CFL. It’s no coincidence it was produced his best year ever.

I’ve heard conflicting information on how well he’ll adjust to dropping into coverage. So we’ll see. Know I’m harping on that a lot but it’s a brand new challenge for any player converting.

Also curious what side they’ll have Lemon working at. I’m guessing the left.

Shayon Green: I’m not positive if Green is getting a run at outside or inside linebacker, but we’ll put him here. Maybe someone can clarify.

If it’s outside, he’s really going to be a longshot. So few snaps to go around and you have to figure at least one of those “last three” will wind up on the practice squad, making his odds slim. At inside linebacker, he’d only have to beat out Jordan Zumwalt for taxi squad consideration.

Aside from him overcoming a lengthy injury history, I can’t say I know much about his game. If we want to put our faith in the Steelers’ website, he is listed at 262 pounds. That makes him an intriguing size but of course, so was Vic So’oto.

 

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