Devil’s Advocate: 3-OLB Package

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: Will the Steelers try to get three outside linebackers on the field together this season, and if so, how often?

Believe it or not, but this isn’t actually an entirely unique novelty for the Steelers that I’m tackling today. I’m sure it’s been done by them in a more distant past, but as recently as 2013, when they drafted Jarvis Jones, the Steelers were interested in getting him on the field together along with LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds in a sub-package. It wasn’t used very frequently, but it was used.

There is every reason to wonder whether or not the team would like to do that again this season with James Harrison and Bud Dupree in the starting lineup and T.J. Watt, the rookie, so far through spring drills showing both strong understanding and athleticism.

Given the frequency with which the Steelers drop their linebackers into coverage—something they would like to be more ambidextrous with this year, doing so with Dupree with greater frequency after Harrison was the primary dropper—it would make sense, schematically.

Having three outside linebackers on the field together seriously complicates offensive blocking schemes, especially when you don’t know if one or more is going to drop into coverage. Even as a rookie, Watt may be able to contribute in that aspect.

But there are a lot of things that the Steelers talk about wanting to do in the spring and summer, even into training camp, and then they end up not doing. This could be yet another one of them, especially as they continue more and more to talk about a desire to get the job done with ‘conventional’ players doing ‘conventional’ things.

The individual talent level is rising, so perhaps they are reaching that point where they can do it without deception. And there is also the fact that Harrison is going to need to rest, anyway. It would be hard to imagine from that point of view seeing him and Watt on the field much if at all.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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