With the 2019 installment of the NFL Scouting Combine on our doorstep, I thought it would be fitting to revisit the remarks that Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert made on Wednesday in front of a group of local reporters regarding the current state of the inside linebacker position, which may be the team’s biggest need at the moment.
It wasn’t that way in the very recent future. At least as the 2016 season, the Steelers boasted two starters at the position who had been named to the Pro Bowl, with Lawrence Timmons toward the end of his career at that point, admittedly, and Ryan Shazier just emerging at that time as a breakout performer.
Of course, Timmons would sign with the Miami Dolphins the following season before quickly regretting it, and we know that Shazier’s playing future very much remains in jeopardy after he suffered a severe spinal injury. He remains with the team and is determined to resume his career, but that can’t be counted upon.
Vince Williams replaced Timmons in 2017, and the team signed Jon Bostic last year to make up the starting duo, but while Williams is under a long-term contract, both spots could be up for debate and possible change, in theory.
Asked if it was still a priority to adequately replace Shazier in 2019, Colbert said, “it’s part of it. Ryan Shazier was a significant football player, not only from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint”, courtesy of the transcript provided by Will Graves of the Associated Press.
“And Ryan Shazier never came off the field, so when you get into dime packages, Ryan is still out there making all the calls”, he added. “Sometimes you have to put a player out there that can understand and make the calls, but they might have a physical limitation that limits them. If that happens, teams are great at finding weaknesses”.
One could certainly argue that the Steelers’ opponents generally did a pretty good job of identifying their coverage weaknesses at the inside linebacker position last season, which was perhaps an even bigger issue than the play at cornerback
“No, we didn’t do enough [to replace Shazier] because we’re 9-6-1. We’re not going to hide from that, and if we do, we won’t”, Colbert wrapped up. “We’re going to recognize that as we go forward for sure, but we have more than one position that we want to continue to look at and upgrade and there may be players that are available to us that we don’t need that are going to upgrade us and they make us that much better that that deficiency may be overcome by having that player”.
The Steelers reportedly wanted to come out of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with one of the top four inside linebackers, but that year saw the first in the past several to watch four inside linebackers go in the first round. In hindsight, they have been criticized for not taking Darius Leonard, especially given that they ended up drafting a player that was regarded by most as a reach.