There are just four more days left now until the Pittsburgh Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe, so today we wrap up our look at the players that will battling to make the 53 man roster or the practice squad with our look at the linebackers.
With Larry Foote, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds and Sean Spence all locks to make the roster, that leaves two, and at best, three, spots on the 53 man roster up for grabs. The candidates for those spots are Stevenson Sylvester, Chris Carter, Mortty Ivy, Brandon Johnson, Adrian Robinson, Brandon Hicks, Marshall McFadden and Ryan Baker.
Let\'s now have a look at each of those players.
ILB Stevenson Sylvester - The Steelers 2010 fifth round pick has been a solid special teams contributor thus far, but has yet to see much playing time on the defensive side of the ball in his first two seasons in the league. In fact, Sylvester has played just under 75 snaps on defense over the last two seasons, with a handful of those coming late in games on kneel downs. His most extensive playing came early in the game last season against the New England Patriots and Sylvester looked like he was thinking more than he was reacting. According to General Manager Kevin Colbert this past offseason, Sylvester was bothered a bit by a knee problem last year and he has also missed a little time during the offseason practices over the summer in addition. Both head coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Keith Butler have been vocal this offseason in saying that Sylvester, who will likely be battling for the backup BUCK position, needs to make that jump forward this year. With that all said, Sylvester needs to shine in camp and in the preseason.
OLB Chris Carter - The first course of action this year for Carter will be to show that he can stay on the field as he was hampered for most of rookie season by a hamstring injury. Carter did not get the benefit of an offseason program last year, after being drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round, thanks to the lockout, so his head has to be spinning less this year as he heads into training camp. Carter saw just under 50 snaps on defense last year in three games at both the right and left outside spots. In his two preseason games he was healthy for, he played entirely on the right side, so the thing to watch for is what side they deem him best suited for. My guess is that it will be the right side. He is by no means a roster lock right now entering training camp.
ILB Mortty Ivy - Ivy, who by many accounts had a strong training camp last year, figures to push Sylvester hard this year in camp. Ivy was promoted to the 53 man roster last season for a limited amount of time and logged just 1 defensive snap while contributing on mostly on special teams. Ivy is no longer eligible for the practice squad this year, so it is a do or die time for him. Sticking out on special teams would certainly help his cause, a must for all backup Pittsburgh linebackers. Will he get a shot at the backup BUCK role this year in camp or will he play the MACK role like he did last year during the preseason?
OLB/ILB Brandon Johnson - Johnson was a late add to the Steelers offseason roster and thus did not get much practice time upon his arrival. The former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker is a unique add as he can play both inside and outside and is great on special teams. Some rumblings suggest that the Steelers have asked him to bulk up a little before camp, which means he could be asked to play outside initially. The downside of that is that he has never been asked to rush the passer that much in the several years he played in the Bengals stacked system. His addition also might suggest that Worilds might not be fully recovered from his offseason wrist surgery by the start of camp as well. Johnson has a tough road ahead of him being as he was such a late add, but it is not out of the question that he winds up making the 53 man roster. I will really be watching him closely during the preseason as a result. Should Johnson make the team, it likely means that either Sylvester or Carter won\'t. Another path to the roster could be created if the Steelers decide to open the season with just 4 safeties instead of 5.
OLB Adrian Robinson - Robinson was signed as an undrafted free agent this offseason and is one of two new young linebackers that Butler mentioned by name as impressing him so far this offseason not named Spence. Robinson reportedly lined up on the left side and impressed with his quickness in practices. Robinson is making the conversion from the 4-3 defensive end position he played at Temple, so the newness of not having his hand in the dirt will certainly take him some time to adjust to. While it would be a surprise if he made the 53 man roster, he certainly could be a strong candidate for the practice squad with a solid training camp and preseason.
ILB Brandon Hicks - Hicks was signed to a futures deal this past offseason and went undrafted in 2011. He spent training camp last year with the Buffalo Bills, but did not make their roster. He best fits as a MACK linebacker in the Steelers system and has at least caught the attention of Butler enough while practicing in shorts for the Steelers linebackers coach to mention him in the same interview that he mentioned Robinson in. With Timmons and Spence ahead of him on the depth chart, it will be virtually impossible for him to make the 53 man roster. The Florida product at best can hope for a spot on the practice squad with a solid training camp.
ILB Marshall McFadden - McFadden has a playing style similar to that of Spence on tape, only not as quick of a first step. He might be a player that can play both the BUCK and MACK roles, but there has not been any information as to where he lined up during the offseason practices. He is definitely an inside guy and could be another player to watch that will be aiming to stick as a member of the practice squad. After the first preseason game, we will have a much better idea where the Steelers see him as a fit after charting. I had McFadden on the podcast earlier this offseason and he is a very smart kid with a great attitude.
OLB Ryan Baker - Baker, an outside linebacker, was another late offseason add that was made because of Brandon Lindsey injuring his shoulder. The LSU product spent a very short period of time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason after going undrafted, so he figures to be only a camp body for the Steelers with virtually no shot at even making the practice squad. Baker will most likely be one of the first players out the door with the first round of cuts take place.
Summation - Sylvester and Carter will be tough to unseat as I consider both inside the bubble as the Steelers head into training camp. Both Johnson and Ivy certainly have legitimate shots. Robinson, Hicks and McFadden all appear to be the strongest candidates to compete for a practice squad spot with Robinson likely being the best bet heading into camp.
Previous Training Camp Roster Battle Post
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Long Snappers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Offensive Line
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Defensive Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Wide Receivers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Tight Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Kickers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Cornerbacks
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Safeties
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Running Backs
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Nose Tackles