Where Will The Buck Eventually Stop With The Steelers At Linebacker?

The Pittsburgh Steelers cut ties with veteran linebacker James Farrior early in March and the move really wasn\’t a surprise. In releasing Farrior the Steelers lost their defensive captain and signal caller and their 14 year mainstay at the BUCK linebacker position.

The primary job of the BUCK linebacker in the Dick LeBeau 3-4 defense is to take on lead blockers and read and react to the play. The BUCK general diagnosis the offense during pre snap and calls out the changes based on what he sees. He is an integral part of the defense and Farrior did it well for so many years.

With Farrior now gone the Steelers will most likely turn to Larry Foote in 2012 to start the season. He did an adequate job filling in for Farrior in 2011 and certainly understands the nuances of the defense. The downside is that Foote will be 32 years of age by the time the season starts and he is entering his final year under contract. The Steelers hope he has one more season in him while they groom the long term buck successor.

When you look at the candidates rights now behind Foote on the roster you see Stevenson Sylvester and Mortty Ivy. Sylvester has played less that 75 snaps on defense since being drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 draft and looks best suited to back up Lawrence Timmons at the MACK linebacker position. Ivy is a converted outside linebacker, who could be a dark horse this year. He has been around the team long enough now to understand the defense and he will certainly have the most to gain during the mini-camp and OTA sessions this offseason. You have to keep in mind that both he and Sylvester saw their development hampered last offseason due to the lockout. While both looked good in training camp last year, it was not enough time for them to completely make a jump.

Regardless of the jump that both Ivy and Sylvester make, the Steelers will most certainly draft an inside BUCK type linebacker in the upcoming draft. If it is to be in the first round, the likeliest targets will be Luke Kuechly out of Boston College or Dont\’a Hightower out of Alabama. I currently have Kuechly rated the highest of the two, but it is doubtful at this point in time that he will fall to the 24th spot where the Steelers pick. Should Kuechly get in striking range, it certainly could be worth the Steelers moving up if they felt they could not live with Hightower.

Both Kuechly and Hightower have the smarts to be eventual signal callers and both are well suited for the BUCK role with their ability to take on and shed blockers. Both play extremely well when moving down hill. The question with both is their ability to drop into coverage. Neither seemed primed to be good initially in man coverage, but both can certainly play in zone drops. The awareness that both have shown on tape is pretty impressive though and that should translate over at the next level.

The biggest knock on Hightower might be his weight and if he will have the discipline to keep it under control while not loosing his power at the next level. Both he and Kuechly should be able to contribute instantly on special teams and another plus is that they are both coming out after their junior years, just like the Steelers like their potential first rounders.

Should neither Kuechly nor Hightower be the pick in round one, it could be a few rounds before the Steelers draft the BUCK position as the talent level drops off quickly after Kuechly and Hightower. Mychal Kendricks out of California and James-Michael Johnson out of Nevada would both present good value at the end of the fourth round, but both come with quite a few holes and question marks as well.

Regardless of which BUCK prospect the Steelers draft in April though, it is hard to imagine that player making any significant contribution in his rookie season outside of special teams. For now the buck will stop with Foote and Ivy initially and that buck could be passed in 2013 to either Kuechly or Hightower, if the Steelers are able to draft either of the two next month.

Tell me your favorite BUCK linebacker prospect in the upcoming draft and why.

  • Jake_Ison

    Nigel Bradham.

  • SteelersDepot

    how about a why?

  • Intropy

    Foote is a buck. Timmons is a mack. I think Farrior is also more of a mack than a buck, but when you want to put your two better athletes, TImmons and Farrior, on the field one has to go buck, and of those two that’s Farrior. I’m not sure which Sylvester is. Of the high picks, I like both Kuechly and and Hightower as bucks. Later rounds I think Emmanuel Acho and Vontaze Burfict would be worth a look.

  • Eric87

    Mortty Ivy seems to be a solid tackler and should get a roster spot this year, whether he can be groomed into a starter, who knows? No one thought Harrison was even worth a spot til his third try and he turned out well. Hightower would be nice addition though

  • Joe D

    Kendrick of NC State…
    Good speed and quickness… projects as a 3rd rounder…
    I’d rather use round 1 and 2 on an OL and NT.

  • Kevin

    Farrior played the Buck for 10 years. It was the mack position where the turnover occurred. I think that Farrior was more suited for the Buck.

  • Sam

    I think they will go with a CB or safety in the first rd. They have enough LBs if they go to a 4-3

  • Dave L

    No way does lebeau go into the season with one experienced buck linebacker, Farrior will be resigned after the draft. Book it.

  • Steel hurtin

    I like Hightower, he reminds me of a smaller version of L. Kirkland.. Could be a center piece of that defense for years to come

  • Bleebo77

    Could anyone see the Steelers taking a chance on Burfict if he’s on the board in the later rounds… or is he off the list entirely, even if sitting there in Round 7?

    Also, are there any unrestricted free agents who might offer some help? Curtis Lofton of the Falcons is still unsigned.

    Moving to OLB, Kiper and McShay are tripping over each other to say how much they love Lavonte David from Nebraska and see him as underrated. James Harrison is no spring chicken… if top players at positions of need are off the board at 24, might the Steelers grab a OLB?

  • Bleebo77

    Scratch that – Saints agree with Lofton on 5-year deal

  • Intropy

    Was he? Maybe I’ve got them mixed up. Here’s what I thought the roles were.

    smaller and faster
    sheds blocks
    flows with play
    shoots gaps
    penetrates pocket
    frequently goes into coverage

    bigger and stronger
    takes on blocks
    sets edges
    plugs holes
    collapses pocket
    rarely goes into coverage

  • neighborhood drunk

    No to Hightower. Hightower have stiff hips, nonexistent in man coverage,decent in zone coverage,not a sideline-to-sideline guy and slow.

  • PoKey21

    Tank Carder. Kid has talent, toughness, and speed. Lacks a little weight, but with a year in the right work out program he could add 10 or 15 pounds. He is a grity football player that would fit perfectly into the Steelers hard knocks tradition. Also a huge sleeper is Noah Keller out of Ohio U. If I am not mistaken I believe he was a 4 year starter. Had 100+ tackles his senior year, no major injuries, and a motor that does NOT stop at all. I think the kid is legit and most likely could go undrafted. He could be a bargain, and I am sure would be a nightmare on the ST unit if picked up!

  • PoKey21

    Carder is listed at 6-2, 236 and Farrior was listed at 6-2, 243. So the size factor wouldnt be an issue. I am going with Decastro by all means if we can move up and get him in the first, for a reasonable price, we do it. If not we take Cordy Glenn round 1, 2nd round Tammu, 3rd Tank Carder, Trenton Robinson in the 4th, Brandon Mosley in the 5th, Kellen Moore in the 6th, Chris Rainey in the 7th, The Steelers like the do it all offensive players and Rainey does that and blocks kicks.

  • clint

    Hightower would be the best fit for the Steelers. I think playing in the SEC you see higher talent every week. Lets face it ACC football is weak! Kuechely doesnt have the size to be the Buck linebacker. He will struggle shedding blocks at this level.He is better suited in a 4-3 defense.
    I do agree with you in later rounds Kendricks from Cal or Johnson from Nevada would be good Buck linebackers, but wouldn’t be ready for play right away.
    I feel the wors’t Linebacker coming out is from Arizona Vontaze Burfict, My mom has a faster forty time my daughter benches more! Steelers don’t hire known problem childs,He has anger management issues.
    Hightower’s weight is fine for the Buck position I remember a certain Steeler running around at 290 pounds playing the same position.Levon Kirkland,Hightower is at 260.

  • Jec3179

    I am starting to like the idea of Tank Carder in the third round..had a very good pro day and his production on the field was great. I like Mike Adams in the first..and either Chapman or Ta’muu in the second..possibly even someone like Brandon Brooks in the second o-line needs a big injection of youth.

  • Finnegans Wake

    Why not try Chris Carter at Buck? Sure, he was a DE at Fresno St. and was tried out at OLB, but at 6’1″, 248#, he’s the same height as Foote but with much better speed and 10# more bulk. His measurables (4.58 40, 1.59 10-yard split, 27 reps, 36″ VJ) show a guy with as much potential as many if not most of the ILBs in this year’s draft, and he’s only 22. Had a hammy last year, but that shouldn’t restrain him from playing this year.

  • Robhenderson

    I want to see what Morty Ivy can do. I liked him last year and he should of made the 53 roster. I’d still draft Hightower because he can plau ILB/OLB.

  • Intropy

    Kuechly: 6’3″ 242
    Hightower: 6’2″ 265
    Farrior: 6’2″ 243

    These guys are bigger than I thought.

  • mghjr88

    I don’t think they’ll bring Farrior back, although I would certainly like it if they did

  • Skbrons

    If Hightower or Luke Kuechly are not taken for what ever reason, Shea McClellin out of Boise State would be a good choice on second round. Steelers have shown interest and the tape shows underrated potential. High motor, fast player, sheds blocks and a player with multiple position play. Exactly what LeBeau likes.

  • NW86

    Regarding Foote – I think they should take a look at offering him a contract extension. This could lower his cap hit in 2012, which is badly needed, plus keep him on the team as an adequate starter for a couple more years – unless a young guy beats him out. Of course, it should be a small enough contract so they could afford to keep him as a backup (no more than $2M/year).

  • clint

    Looking again at player rankings and the Steelers beliefs of taking the best player available.

    Donta Hightower is ranked 39th overall 2nd best ILB projected 2nd round player.
    Will the Steelers let a Mark Barron ranked 22nd overall 1st best Strong Safety go, or Mike Adams ranked 32nd and 4th best Tackle. Stephone Gilmore ranked 24th 3rd best Cornerback or maybe a Guard Kevin Zeitler Wisconsin ranked 37th 3rd best.

    They have linebackers on the team with experience Lets face it the Steelers draft picks don’t usually have to start there rookie year, teams that have to start rookies are usually always picking in the top ten and only win 5 games a year!

  • neighborhood drunk

    Jason Worilds