Steelers Draft Shows They Appear To Be Comfortable With Outside Linebacker Depth

Heading into the 2012 NFL draft it looked as if the Pittsburgh Steelers might have interest in drafting not only an inside linebacker, but an outside linebacker as well. Of their 30 allowed pre draft visitors, 4 were considered 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the form of Nick Perry, Andre Branch, Cam Johnson and Olivier Vernon. There were also reports that the Steelers had some interests in Whitney Mercilus in addition to those four players.

When the smoke had cleared late Saturday night the Steelers had only drafted inside linebacker Sean Spence and added outside linebackers Brandon Lindsey and Adrian Robinson as undrafted free agents following the draft. These actions would lead you to believe that the team is very comfortable with Jason Worilds and Chris Carter as their backups to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as they head now towards training camp.

While there has been some speculation that Worilds could possibly be heading for a move inside, it is looking less likely to happen any time soon, as he is still more than likely the first man off the bench should Harrison or Woodley miss time again like they did last year. Linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked if the third year linebacker out of Virginia Tech could play inside during his Friday press conference and said, “Worilds played outside for us last year and did a great job. Can he play inside? Maybe he can. We’ll see. We might give him a look at that. Right now we need him at outside.” So even though Butler did not rule out totally that Worilds could move inside at some point, he clearly states that he needs Worilds outside for now and that makes perfectly good sense.

The outside linebacker that perhaps has the biggest question mark attached to him heading into training camp is Chris Carter, the Steelers 5th round draft pick from last year. Carter did not get the benefit of mini camps and OTA sessions last year thanks to the lockout and he battled a nagging hamstring injury in addition during his rookie year that ultimately landed him on the injured reserve late in the season. Carter did manage to play a hair under 50 snaps last year on defense over the course of three games, with his most meaningful playing time coming against the New England Patriots after Woodley left the game injured. Carter showed how green he was in that game though, but you have to remember that linebackers hardly ever see the field their rookie season as they are usually thinking more than they are reacting.

Butler commented on Carter Friday as part of the Worilds answer I mentioned above and he said, “Chris Carter has a lot to learn. He was one of those rookies last year that gets the benefit of that second year this year. I have my work cut out for me as a coach.” That is not a glowing review for the former Fresno State product, but Butler is as blunt and honest as he can be on him. He has a lot to learn and that is to be expected. You can\’t judge a rookie linebacker for the Steelers in just 50 game snaps and Carter should benefit greatly from the OTA sessions this offseason. Hopefully his hamstring problems are way behind him now so that he can get as many snaps as possible during training camp and preseason.

Both Lindsey and Robinson are intriguing outside linebacker prospects added after the draft who will more than likely battle in training camp for a spot on the Steelers practice squad. The Steelers will likely only carry 8 linebackers in total on the 53 man roster this year with Spence taking the spot that was opened with the release of veteran James Farrior earlier this offseason.

Woodley is etched in stone on the left side for many more years to come baring something unforeseen and Harrison looks to rebound after a season that saw him miss 5 games with a busted orbital bone. Harrison is signed through the 2014 season, but there are worries that back issues could eventually catch up with him before he sees the end of his contract. As long as he is playing at the same level that we have been accustomed to prior to the 2011 season there is no reason to worry, but should his play fall off drastically because of his back or other injuries, the Steelers need someone to be able to step in and carry on his torch. That someone would likely be either Worilds or Carter, and judging by the draft and aftermath, the Steelers still have all the confidence in the world in both of them.

[flv: 550 334]

  • zbluez1

    I expect that Carter will get tons of work and coaching this camp and pre-season just to see what he’s got physically and how much of the defensive scheme he has gotten mentally. To quote a Tomlin-ism “His see to do” has got to get a lot faster.

  • Dave

    I think that is partially just the way the draft unfolded as much as it is a vote of confidence in Worilds or Carter.

    If the Bengals would have taken DeCastro at 21, maybe the Steelers would have taken Whitney Mercilus or Nick Perry at 24, we’ll never know for sure…

    (Everyone talks about how great the Bengals draft was, but IMO it would have been even better just staying put and taking DeCastro at 21…getting a better player plus forcing the Steelers to go in another direction)

    Also – any clue why Cam Johnson fell so far? I thought he would have been a nice pick in the 3rd, 4th, 5th round but he ended up fallling into round 7, almost to the David Paulson pick.

  • SteelersDepot

    he has sickle-cell anemia

  • SteelersDepot

    Also I said “Appear” to be comfortable. The draft could have of course played out differently..

  • Jbbishop

    How about Jonathan Goff as someone to consider atILB as a free agent? He is coming off an injury, but is still only 26.

  • Wdmason

    Im worried about another injury and/or suspension at OLB. Linebacker and Safety will need to be addressed in the next draft. The Steelers can never have enough linebackers and it seems they have always had more than capable backups on the bench like Harrison himself and guys like Dirt Winston in the 70’s..

  • Harold

    You know the Steelers roster is looking good when we’re worrying about our 3rd string OLB depth behind two pro bowlers and a developing 2nd round pick.

  • zbluez1

    Worried about it through the rash of injuries last year. Worry it could happen again this year. Next years draft is supposed to be strong at safety, strong at inside linebacker, and strong on the ‘tweener type of defensive end that the Steelers seem to love.

  • Maybe I am alone in this, but I never saw them as having a true interest in any first round OLB prospects. I think they vetted those guys to be informed should the draft play out in such a way that they were the best value, but I don’t really think any were all that high on the wishlist.

  • Jprankster2005

    I like Lindsey……….. I hope he can make the practice squad and work his way up to be a Steeler…..

  • Jprankster2005

    This is what I think is going to happen at ILB….. I think Sylvester will get alot of snaps this yr. and if he pans out to be the next ILB then great and he will be there for a long time with a Backup behind him, If he doesn’t pan out they probably resign Foote, I mean Foote can be pretty productive if healthy he’s only 31 farrior is 37 so Foote could be there for the next 3 to 4 yrs…. Because if sylvester doesnt pan out they will probably draft a ILB regardless next yr. and Will work behind Foote until someone’s ready…… I like Foote and don’t mind seeing him over Farrior…….

  • Harold

    Our roster is shaping up very nicely because we (hopefully) just filled our most glaring holes. That means (barring injury) we can select S, OLB, ILB in the next draft and let them develop for a year (learn the system, build strength, refine their technique) before being thrust into action. This is essential for most DE/OLB conversion projects. Things are looking very bright for the Steelers’ future.

  • Nolrog

    I would argue that they felt the glaring needs at other positions over shadowed the need at OLB, which likely will be addressed high in next year’s draft.

  • ezlee

    I look at the defense as a unit – not just position by position – and this is what I see: If you go back 2-3 seasons, the Steelers had 4 guys who could get to the QB – Harrison, Woodley, Keisel, and Farrior. Keisel no longer is a pass rush threat and Farrior is gone. So they are down to Woodley and Harrison. This limits the variations/confusion Lebeau can unleash. He must send Harrison and Woodley on every passing down. Too predictable. They need a third guy who can bring it to the QB. Who will it be? It will not be Timmons Foote, or Hood. We have seen enough of them to know they are not pass rushers. Cam Heyward?? Too early to tell. We will know by the end of this season. Worilds played well last season, but he does not appear to have superior pass rush ability. Just as fixing the O-line was the top priority this year, finding a good pass rusher is likely going to be the top priority in next years Steelers draft.

  • SteelSpine

    I would add that the draft is a reflection of desparate needs at other positions, it just shows you cant draft to fill every need because there are not enough picks in rounds 1-4 to do that. This year we had almost-no depth at so many positions. For example there’s no way the Steelers staff was comfortable with our depth at safety (I think Mundy is still there because we’ve had nothing), yet I dont think we drafted any safety. At OLB all we had is a groomed prospect in Jason Worlds, but at OG & OT we did not even have a Jason Worlds-level prospect. So I think in this draft’s result indicates what was known prior that we had nothing at backup of so many other positions.

    Thanks for your very-helpful scoop about Cris Carter, prior to that I/we had almost no info about Carter so I just-assumed but wondered if he can be groomed. I just assumed based on history LeBeau has taken any LB prospects & LeBeau & his defensive scheme turned them into eventually excellent OLBs. Based on what Butler said about Carter, if I’m Lindsay or Robinson I’m feeling better about my chances to make the team at OLB. Plus Linday & Robinson no-doubt were reminded by our staff that the Steelers got James Harrison as a free agent on the street.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Can you tell us who the OLBs are on the roster. Harrison, Worilds, Woodley and Carter I know, but are there any others?

  • Wdmason

    We have Spence. Looks very thin to me considering Timmons had to move over last year. This is not the Steeler way.

    Harrison will not make the entire year without a suspension. We will have to settle with sub par pass rushers. If Woodley is hurt again we are in trouble.

    It sure does appear they are comfortable but I am not.

  • Broderick Wallace

    Defense is slated for first round pick in next years’ draft based on Tomlin’s continuing pattern.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Spence is an ILB.