Buck Linebacker Spot Continues To Be Big Question Mark On Steelers Defense

By Jeremy Hritz

Only 20 some days away from the 2013 NFL Draft, and still the biggest question facing the Steelers defense is who will line up alongside Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker. Based on the current roster and due to the injury of Sean Spence, it would appear that Larry Foote will start inside for a second year. Foote was serviceable but not spectacular in 2012, and it would seem logical that the Steelers would want to upgrade at the position in 2013.

Elsewhere on the Steelers defense, things seem to be figured out.

Starting on the defensive line, Ziggy Hood will return at the left defensive end position, opposite of the bearded one, Brett Keisel. Assuming that Steve McLendon signs his tender, he will get his first opportunity as the starting nose tackle, a move that has been greatly anticipated by Steelers fans. McLendon at nose tackle hopefully provides an upgrade to a defensive line that was porous at times last season against the run.

On the backend, the safety positions will continue to be manned by Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, both who are nearing the end of their careers. They still have one to two productive years left, so the Steelers have some time to cultivate starters for when Clark and Polamalu depart. At the cornerback position, Ike Taylor will return  to provide veteran leadership and to help new starter on the left side, Cortez Allen, get acclimated with his new role. The Steelers are counting on Polamalu staying healthy and Allen building on the turnovers he was responsible for at the end of last season.

And then we have the linebacking corps. Where it currently stands without a clear cut long-term starter at the BUCK spot inside, the team is relatively young at the position. LaMarr Woodley is 28, Timmons is 26, and newly anointed right outside starter Jason Worilds is 25. If Woodley can rebound, Timmons can continue his solid play, and Worilds can prove he is starter material, the linebacker position will be improved. Still, the uncertainty surrounds the left side. Dave Bryan wrote back on March 21st that the Steelers may have a plan for Marshall McFadden at inside linebacker, but only to provide for depth and to address special teams. They also still have Foote on the roster who was resigned this offseason; however, it would be foolish to believe that the defense would improve if the position remained status quo.

It seems logical that the Steelers would take an inside linebacker with the 17th pick in the first round, yet there are simply too many questions surrounding Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, and Manti Te’o. Oh yeah, there is also this thing about rookies not starting on the Steelers defense.

While there is an outside chance that one of the aforementioned players could be drafted and start by the end of the season, the probability is small, and it is more realistic to believe that 2013 finds Foote back inside next to Timmons for not only all of 2013, but quite possibly the start of 2014 as well.

  • Sean

    Why is Arthur brown never mentioned as a possible pick for the steelers? I think him and Timmons could do some damage inside

  • Brendon Glad

    I like that idea. I live in Kansas and have good feelings about Arthur Brown. I think he is projected later though. MIght be a nice mid-round selection if the chips fall right. I don’t like drafting LB’s in the first round anyway usually. I think KSU plays a 4-3…and he got beaten up a little bit in the Bowl game. I’m no X’O expert, but it feels like maybe Brown is not quite equipped to be a MLB in a 4-3 on the NFL level…but might fit in nicely as a ILB in the 3-4. You may be onto something.

  • SteelSpine

    Buck position’s a hot-button topic. The only conversation needs to be just which round this draft we’ll draft it now for 2014 or for 2015. Because no question whether I or everyone likes it, Foote’s the starter. We already hashed over he’s the only possibility to start there this year because knows the system, atho thats to the delight of opposing tight ends in red zone.

    I have a feeling Teo goes to Ravens plug-in Ray Lewis’ former spot.

    So many positions high need for us I think ILB will get passed by Steelers 1st 4 picks, problem is aren’t enough picks for us in 1st several rds to draft every position high. It’s about BAA but as others have written it’s about BAA at a position of need, & ILB is 1 of probly 5 positions we must now draft, whether it’s to develop for our defense or impact this year on offense.

    A negative of LeBeau is whoever we draft for defense, by the time they become starters or good, their contract is up & they go on market for bidding. Then another team offers them worth, then I’ll read writers say Steelers FO never wanted to re-sign them, in most cases I think that is just spin, I think Steelers wanted to re-sign Keenan & Will Allen but for much cheaper than what the FO knew those players will be worth on the open market.

  • SteelerDave

    I too am a fan of Arthur Brown.

  • Superdriller316

    With the exception of Brady. Would you draft a franchise QB in the later rounds of the draft? No… Then why do it for the Defense? We need someone who is smart enough that he can start next year, not just hold the position. There are good OLB, WR, DL, and OL that can be had in later rounds. The top 4 ILB’s will be gone by the Steelers second pick. Why give up a draft pick to trade up? It’s not worth it and we need all the picks we can get. People want to talk about value. Ok, try and trade back, but if you can’t, pull the trigger and get one of them. I would rather reach for something we need than wait and get a bust.

  • NW86

    I don’t think there is much of a question that Foote starts. He may not have been spectacular, but he was a little more than serviceable this past year. He was one of the most consistent, assignment-sound players on the defense and one of the few that stayed healthy in EVERY game.
    There is probably need to draft an ILB at some point for depth and grooming purposes, but it won’t be in the 1st round, and he WON’T start in 2013 barring injury. No matter where they are drafted, the safety that is drafted is more likely to see playing time than the ILB that is drafted, simply because Troy will miss more time than Foote or Timmons.

  • http://twitter.com/softdrums Shea Fahr

    McFadden, Rolle and draft the kid from Penn State in the 6th round (if he is healed enough and somebody else does not take him) and let them fight it out during camp.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    U are right safety more immediate need because Troy will miss games this year & we’re screwed when it happens. Our backups at safety havent even shown yet to be better than Mundy, let alone as ok as Will Allen. And this assumes Clark doesnt get hurt. Right now we have nothing at backup S, all we have is hope for undrafted types who have shown nothing good in any game so far.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Its sad that it takes years to play on defense here, just a couple exceptions in the past. Buck takes even longer to begin to play on defense here because thats the position which calls the plays.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    I completely agree. And I wouldnt be surprised if they throw BJohnson or Sly into that group to compete if those 2 arent on teams. I’ve said all along Steelers pay Lebeau enough money that he can make one inside linebacker out of that 3 to 5 bodies in camp. Let them fight it out in camp. And if LB coach Butler cannot make one inside backer out of those, then is Butler really so great to be entitled to be promoted to coordinator…

  • Jollyrob68

    Removethe crutch that is Larry Foote and McFadden,Rolle or someone will stepup.

  • David Edward

    I have Brown ranked as #13 on my draft board for the Steelers. He is my top ILB and looks like he can fit nicely into LeBeau’s 3-4. He’s basically the same size as Foote but faster. He can be a sneaky good pick.

  • RMSteeler

    Brown should be an excellent pick if they can get him in Rd 3 or 4.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The BUCK is the leader of the defense….he calls the plays and makes sure everyone is where they need to be….yep…just let some green kid come in and assume that spot.

  • Sean

    He’ll be gone in first rd dude

  • steeltown

    Agreed

  • steeltown

    I have to agree, regardless of whether they draft an ILB (which they probably will) we still have the up and comer Mcfadden and newly signed Rolle competing backup ILB spots.
    We will need to draft ILB soon because Foote is not getting any younger, but it will be interesting to see who steps up THIS season, Mcfadden could very well improve upon last year and Rolle has starting experience already, so it will be an interesting battle to watch in camp

  • steeltown

    Like it or not, Foote is the starter, atleast this year anyway, no one else is ready to call the plays on the field yet. Foote had a good year last season as a full time starter. He was one of the better surprises of an overall abysmal 8-8 season

  • steeltown

    Yep, Safety is a huge need now that Will Allen departed

  • steeltown

    Agreed.

    As much as I like Dwyer and Goldens potential.. Safety, WR and RB are huge needs right now

  • dave

    I think the Steelers were all set to take Donta Hightower last year, which would have been the answer to this problem, but DeCastro unexpectedly fell into their laps.

  • Clint Martin

    That’s funny. He is tough but he is probably a WILB for a 3-4 or a OLB in a 4-3

  • Clint Martin

    To play behind Timmons? He isn’t a SILB He is more suited to play WILB

  • TheBlitz

    I’m just gonna throw this out there and see what kind of debate it generates:

    What if the Steelers had drafted Hightower – ILB from Alabama. He was the clear cut pick for the Steelers – last year instead of Decastro and grab an OG this year ?
    Looking at how things are shaping up, there is a good chance one of the top guards in this class (Cooper and Warmack) will be available when we pick @ 17.

    I’m interested to know your opinions.

  • David Edward

    Actually Clint, I think he can play either. He is the same size as Foote but faster and has requisite strength for the position. As a former ILB myself, I would want both my ILBs to be able to have the speed to penetrate quickly, chase laterally from sideline to sideline, and drop back into coverage as well as pick up a RB out of the backfied. They also need to be able to take on lead blocks and shed quickly. I see Brown as being able to do all of those things.

  • dave

    Yeah, maybe in 20-20 hindsight if you knew DeCastro would miss most of his rookie year…but you can’t predict injuries, and it is way too early to give up on DeCastro.

  • Clint Martin

    Quick penetration is key LOL no but seriously I think He is more suited to a 4-3 team because of his athletic ability and they will use him on the outside. Just my opinion.I guess in a couple of weeks we will find out.

  • TheBlitz

    I’m not giving up on Decastro. I think he’s a great talent despite not playing his rookie year.

    I’m just merely suggesting that maybe if we draft Hightower instead, then draft one of the top OG this year, the Steelers end up with two studs at ILB and OG.

    There is a lot of good ILB in this class but the good ones either have major red flags, or the OK ones are just not worth the pick at 17.

  • Sean

    U swap him with Timmons