As the days continue to tick away before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 training camp opens in Latrobe at the end of the month, we continue to preview some of the major storylines to look out for as the weeks progress.
One of the more exciting aspects of training camp is always keeping an eye on the roster battles, and the Steelers appear to have a deeper 90-man roster than has been the case in recent years. As a result, there are several spots in particular at which the coaching staff figures to have a difficult decision to make when the roster cuts must be made.
Since we began this series with the outside linebackers, we might as well get to the inside linebacker position next, which appears to have ample quality depth, perhaps even beyond those who are expected to make the roster.
The Steelers currently have six inside linebackers on the roster, all of whom were a part of the team last year, a figure that includes then-rookie Jordan Zumwalt spending the entirety of the season on injured reserve.
Zumwalt is back again after undergoing surgery to repair a groin injury, and for his sake, he had better hope that he is fully healed and ready to compete without incident when training camp opens up shortly, because the competition ahead of him will be tough to crack.
Starters Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, it should go without saying, are locks to make the roster. Sean Spence, entering his fourth season, and Vince Williams, entering the third, appear to be virtual locks as well, as both played significant and valuable snaps a year ago.
The Steelers have carried a fifth inside linebacker in each of the past two seasons with Terence Garvin, although his contributions have been limited almost entirely to special teams. But that is a role in which he has excelled, and it will be hard to knock him off the roster as a result.
The battle, then, figures to come down to Garvin and Zumwalt, with the assumption that the Steelers do keep a fifth inside linebacker. With eight outside linebackers and the unlikelihood that they carry more than nine linebackers total, this is not a certainty.
Of the group of all linebackers who are not virtual roster locks, Garvin has by far the strongest body of evidence as a contributor on special teams, but others have the opportunity to prove otherwise during the preseason.
Zumwalt was limited throughout his rookie year, from wrapping up college obligations to nagging injuries. He participated in just one preseason game, and actually played fairly well, before he was essentially shut down.
He came into the league with people thinking that he could be a force on special teams. And he would have had an easier path to a roster spot last year than he does now, in truth. Garvin’s continually growing body of work plays against Zumwalt.
With Spence entering the final year of his contract, and knowing his injury history, could it be possible that he loses out on a roster spot, if both Garvin and Zumwalt show enough? Given the lengths the team has gone to stand behind him during his two years of rehabilitation, that seems unlikely, but you never know.