Devil’s Advocate: Depth Perception At ILB

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Is the Steelers’ current group of inside linebackers enough depth, or is this a position that is necessary to address in the draft?

Based on the many comments that I have read on our boards over the course of the past month or so, I know for a fact that there are mixed views on this question, which is what makes it an ideal topic to address for the Devil’s Advocate segment.

Quite simply, are the Steelers placing themselves at undue risk if they fail to address the inside linebacker position in the draft—or in post-June-1st free agency—following the loss of starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons?

There are multiple layers to this, of course. If you don’t think Vince Williams is a sufficient starter, your answer is more likely to be yes, although you could suggest more sub-packages with Williams coming off the field.

If you think Williams is fine in the starting lineup, then the question becomes whether or not they have enough depth. I’m going to make the assumption that Williams will be a capable starter. Backing him and Ryan Shazier up figures to be a combination of L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich, and Steven Johnson.

Out of the three, Johnson has the most experience playing on defense in the league, but seems to be on the bottom of the order for playing time on defense in Pittsburgh. Fort, meanwhile, was already released once. Matakevich has a nose for the ball, but does he have the legs to get to it?

With respect to Fort, coaches have praised is work in coverage, and at the start of the season he was actually the first reserve off the bench. Over the course of the offseason, it’s possible that this group shows the coaching staff that they are sufficient to get the job done.

It’s possible, but not a guarantee. And we’re talking about a starting group that features one who is injury-prone and the other who is only the presumptive starter, with limited overall starting experience as an injury replacement, thus without proof that he can be sustained for a 16-game season.

That makes it all the more imperative that you have depth that you can count on, and not even the coaching staff knows right now if they have that—but they think it’s possible. Do you take that chance though?

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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