Training Camp Expectations: Inside Linebackers

In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.

Wrapping up the linebackers today with the inside group.

Lawrence Timmons – Not much needed to see from the veteran. We will be closely monitoring how often the Steelers use dime packages in camp and in the preseason. Even if they want to keep things close to the vest, if they intend on getting Sean Davis serious playing time this year as that third safety, they’re going to need to rep it in camp.

Ryan Shazier – I really hope the Steelers quit using him off the edge. It’s just so ineffective. To things Shazier can control, I am looking for just that – control. He was a little too bouncy, too susceptible to being fooled by offense’s window dressing and it gets him out of position. Maybe he’ll keep making strides against the run though I was encouraged by his progress last season. Also looking for him to keep his head up as a tackler. See what you hit, Shazier.

Vince Williams – He’ll get a lot of play in the preseason but it doesn’t seem like he’s going to get to do much once the games start to count. His path to playing time will have to come through someone else’s injury, unless Pittsburgh gets really gutsy and starts taking Timmons’ snaps away in anticipation of making Williams the starter next year.

Barring that, it leaves Williams to focus on being a great special teamer. Which hey, he already is. So there isn’t much to look forward to. Expect the at least one bone-crushing hit he’ll deliver on someone in camp. It’s a rite of passage.

Steven Johnson – We’ve already seen it from his tape with Tennessee that he can be a strong special teamer. But like any free agent, it’s exciting to see how well and where Johnson will perform. I expect him to take over for Terence Garvin’s spot basically across the board. But we won’t know for sure until it happens. He also has some experience on defense, getting time with Denver, so I don’t expect him to look lost out there. He’s a veteran and will see a lot of action versus rookies. Should excel.

Tyler Matakevich – Perhaps no one has been more hyped up than the team’s final draft pick, who has already been attached to some zany Zach Thomas comparisons. Like most of these guys on the bubble or looking just outside, he’s gotta kill it on special teams. If Travis Feeney struggles because of injury, the door will be open. And with all the team lost on special teams this year, the door is certainly open for a guy like Matakevich to make the roster.

But it goes beyond just grit to be a good special teamer. Being a great athlete certainly helps and those who have the mentality of a pass rusher – being able to get off blocks – is another useful trait. Matakevich isn’t strong in either of those areas and those are marks against. It’s all about paying attention to details and doing the little things as much as it is the big hits and splashy plays. Get to your spots, don’t get lazy and look at the ball, go with 100% effort in every step. Those are things Matakevich should do well but again, we need to see it before we go in checking that box.

L.J. Fort – The sleeper maybe no one is talking about, Fort did earn a cup of coffee late in the year when injuries struck. Signed late into last year’s camp, Fort actually made some splash plays in practice and in the preseason. He also appears to have the versatility to play inside or outside. I expect him to be inside this year but that’s something we’ll find out for sure after Day One.

If he is able to carry that over then it isn’t impossible to think he’ll make the roster.

Jordan Zumwalt – Roe V Wade. Miranda V Arizona. Zumwalt V Zumwalt. These are histories most important battles. We can talk about the things Zumwalt has to do to make the roster, they’re pretty much the same as the two players above, but we all know it’s about Zumwalt just making it through a camp. No missed practices. No missed reps. This is absolutely his last chance and he’s already a fringe player. He’ll have to stay healthy and excel, two things I have my reservations about.

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