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Steelers Could Get Creative In Replacing Foote


By Matthew Marczi

With Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote being lost for the season after suffering a ruptured bicep during the team’s opening week loss to the Tennessee Titans, do not be surprised if you see the team try out some creative solutions to fill in the gap as the season goes on.

Of course, this is going on nothing but certain comments made since the loss and the common sense of using the depth of talent at other positions to mask the deficiency in another area. As noted in Dave Bryan’s article yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that the Steelers will "look at alternative defensive packages, particularly in some of our sub package stuff to neutralize a loss of a Larry Foote”.

So what might those packages be?

In 2011, when the Steelers were without James Farrior and James Harrison during a bout with the New England Patriots, the team moved Lawrence Timmons to outside linebacker and started Stevenson Sylvester in Farrior’s place. Yet, despite starting, he played just 12 snaps.

Granted, much of that had to do with the opponent, but this is the game in which Dick LeBeau broke out the dime and the big nickel packages. Keenan Lewis played over 80 percent of the team’s snap as the nickel corner, and Cortez Allen and Ryan Mundy combined to play about the same percentage. In addition, Casey Hampton logged just 10 snaps.

Utilizing additional defensive backs will likely be done with even greater frequency this season than it has been due to the loss, although the possibility of being without Allen this week could limit that some.

But the Steelers have other options to get their best role players on the field as well by utilizing some rarely used subpackages.

Making rare appearances last season was a subpackage that saw the Steelers employ four down linemen in select situations, beginning in the game against the New York Jets. On five occasions during that game, the Steelers pulled a pair of linebackers in exchange for an extra defensive back, while also adding a lineman, for a 4-2-5 look.

Given the way that both Cameron Heyward and Al Woods have come on this past offseason, one would think that Dick LeBeau would be even more comfortable utilizing this package with five defensive linemen that he trusts. Woods played 10 snaps in the first game, while Heyward played 29.

That subpackage in particular is rather limited, however, and there is another appealing solution: you want to play all three outside linebackers? Put them all on the field at the same time.

This idea would actually work even better if Jarvis Jones does indeed start next week. When the Steelers want to rotate in Jason Worilds, they can simply move Jones inside, where he has had the majority of his success rushing the passer through the preseason and in the first game.

While the team rejected Jones’ suggestion to play him at inside linebacker, according to Jim Wexell, linebackers coach Keith Butler hinted during training camp about a package that gets all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time, and now that they are down an inside linebacker, they should have plenty of opportunities in pass rushing situations to do just that.

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Joe Bu

    Good article. I hadn’t thought about Jones at ILB, but why not start Jarvis at ILB straight up? Let Timmons make the calls that Foote was, but not change positions. Worilds is serviceable at OLB.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Foote wasn’t great in coverage to begin with and is slow. Not sure this will not be a upgrade with whatever LeBeau has up his sleeve.

  • JPDQ

    I really hope we’re not underestimating the loss of Foote. Seems like he was usually at or near the top of the list in tackles for us. I don’t know the stats off the top of my head, but I know the guy was solid in run D. Had a little attitude, too. Was a prototypical Steeler, in my mind. Wish him the best.

  • steeltown

    I hope they put Jarvis inside at some point, not permanently, but in certain packages. Also, our DBs excel at tackling, with the amount of weapons that Cincinnati has at its disposal I sure hope we see a lot of Dime and Big Nickel with Shark and some others logging a significant amount of snaps

  • steeltown

    Agreed.. some people give him grief for not excelling in coverage or for his age, but he had a damn good year last season. Thankfully we found a couple good prospects this offseason or we’d really be in trouble.

  • JPDQ

    Really, who “votes down” a comment showing support for Larry Foote? Some of you folks have the maturity of 6th grade cheerleader. Probably the intellect, too.

  • steeltown

    …I told ya

  • Mike Carroll

    I think most fans appreciate what Foote has done over the years, but are ready to move on. Foote was solid, but rarely spectacular especially the last couple years. In fact, I think his play in particular really kinda embodies the overall defense the last two years: great yardage stats, but lacking in turnovers and big plays. I’d prefer to give the young guys a shot at the position and I like the opportunities for more creative sub-packages as well.

  • Michael Farraj

    It is sad to say, but I saw more production from Al Woods this pre-season than I ever have from Cam Heyward. I am very concerned that Heyward and possibly Hood as not being the players that Colbert thought that he would get when he decided to draft the two of them. Kevin Colbert and his scouting staff have been very subpar in their jobs.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    There is a difference in making a tackle and making a play. Foote would make MOST of the tackles he was supposed to, but he was not and never will be a playmaker. To me, the thing this D is currently missing most is playmakers.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Please don’t take this personally but I disagree with your assessment of Larry Foote. He is very very slow (especially when moving laterally) and he does not shed blocks well. He is absolutely terrible in pass coverage, which is how most teams attack these days. Even Butler has said, “The days of a pure run stuffing Buck ILB are over.” So what does Foote really give us?

    He is smart and he knows the defense. That’s about it. It’s not that the posters here are immature or even that they don’t support our players. It’s that they recognize our need to upgrade the Buck ILB position for about 4 years now and we still trot Foote out there like everything is okay.

    In this past draft we had a chance to draft an explosive ILB (Arthur Brown) in the 2nd round and passed on him. The Ravens scooped him up. Two years ago we had a chance to draft another one (Donte Hightower) and passed on him. The Patriots scooped him up.

    I think that’s where the down arrows come from. IMO.

  • Luke Shabro

    I’m just dreaming here but I was thinking it would be great to see a 4-2-5 situation with Woods, McClendon, Cam/Keisel, Woodley on the line, Jarvis and Timmons at LB and Shark and brought into the secondary with Ike, Gay, Troy and Clark. Is this too heavy you think? Probably something they won’t do.

  • JPDQ

    Well, you certainly could be right on Foote. And you’re free to disagree all you want, I’ve got no problem with that. At least you come with some logical arguments. All I’m saying is that the guy has been a good player for us and you can’t restock every position via the draft every year. If Steeltown’s numbers below are correct, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Kion Wilson can put up similar stats at the end of the year. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he puts up 113 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

  • JPDQ

    Sure, he’s not James Harrison or Troy Polamalu in their prime play-making years… but nobody has a team where every position is occupied by a playmaker. Foote was a solid starter here for many years and it wouldn’t have bothered me at all to have him finish this year out rather than Kion Wilson.

  • Bilgewater D

    Heyward played a very good game against the Titans. Hood is having a good start to the season.

    I think you see the following line-up next year starting: Heyward, Mclendon, Hood, and Woods will get a ton of playing time.

    We may bring back Keisel on a vet minimum deal, but we’re going to have to star shedding some of these contracts and extend Ben to be competitive.

  • Michael Farraj

    Bilgewater D – How can you say that Cam Heyward had a good game against the Titans? Heyward only had one tackle and never went past the line of scrimage to pressure the quarterback. Hood outplayed Hayward in that game, but that is not saying much.

  • steeltown

    Indeed

  • steeltown

    I think once he’s acclimated, Vince Williams will be the guy to man that position and I think he’ll put up some good really numbers

  • steeltown

    I could totally see them using that a handful of times.. I think I’d keep Hood in there though, the guy is quick and powerful regardless of what people say

  • steeltown

    Did you see Heyward completely destroy the Center from a standing position? I could watch that play over and over again

  • steeltown

    Agreed

    I love Keisel but we now have some other young prospects (Arnfelt and N.Williams) that could step up and step in as backups next year. I guess we’ll see how Keisel fairs this season, but I sure like the look of our future DL and LBs

  • Luke Shabro

    In 2008 and 2010 Kevin Colbert was a genius and Mike Tomlin was just riding the wave. Now they’re apparently all terrible and have done an awful job. I’m not absolving Colbert of some mediocre picks over the years in Ziggy, Worilds, Sweed, Heyward (maybe, the jury is still out) and Mendenhall to an extent. However, I’m so sick of the first sign of trouble, Colbert is terrible. Colbert got Mike Wallace in the 3rd, Antonio Brown in the 6th, Manny Sanders in the 3rd, Beachum in the 7th, Steve McClendon UDFA. Will Johnson UDFA. Plenty of good GM’s whiff sometimes. Say what you want about Cam and Ziggy but in my opinion, Colbert has never missed on a first rounder. He may not have found an All Pro but he never missed. If only the Yinzers ran the FO we would be 16-0 going to the Super Bowl every season

  • Michael Farraj

    Heyward has not proven to be a run stopper of the caliber of Aaron Smith and neither has Hood. We have one year left for Hood to prove himself. Honestly, does either Hood or Heyward look even close to making an impact on the D as Brett Keisel, let alone the caliber of a defensive end as Aaron Smith (who they are sadly attempting to replace)?

  • Ahmad

    I had almost forgotten about that 4 DL Nickel package and I think it’s a great sub package to use especially for this game. IMO, we will see a lot of the big nickel package to help counteract the new 12 personnel set the Bengals have. I really don’t expect to see the base 3-4 than no more than a handful of plays.

  • Ahmad

    Also is it possible wee see the Nickel 33 stack from the Steelers?

  • steeltown

    First off we will NEVER replace Aaron Smith, people need to stop comparing or thinking that will be the case.. but in all actuality I think Hood is a solid player and believe he will have good year, he’s quick and very strong. I see them offering him an extension. Heyward has never been a full time starter so he’s harder to gauge, I think /hope he turns into a solid starter as early as next season

  • Luke Shabro

    With Kion Wilson probably in there I’d rather see the 3-3-3 IF it’s Woodley, Timmons and Jones not Worilds.

  • Luke Shabro

    There’s only one Aaron Smith. That guy was so underrated. Unfortunately J.J. Watt will change that view now but he was one of the best 3-4 ends of all time IMO

  • Michael Farraj

    I believe that the Steelers (good or bad) will re-sign Steven Sylvester after they know Shaun Suisham is ok and will then release Shayne Graham. I will definitely be worried Monday Night should Kion Wilson start if Allen is unable to go.

  • Michael Farraj

    I NEVER have read or heard, since the Steelers got Colbert
    from (the horrible job he did with) the Lions that the Steelers fan base liked him. And never did I hear anyone singing his praises. Let us not forget, it was coach Cowher that was responsible for the Rooney’s firing Tom Donahoe. I believe Kevin Colbert went along with what Cowher wanted in the draft; but now that Tomlin has taken over as coach, it appears that the coach has less say on who the Steelers acquire. Colbert and his scouting staff’s success rate of selecting talent over the years seems to have diminished. Kevin Colbert and the whole scouting staff needs to be replaced before we can hope that the Steelers personnel gets really any better.

  • bgsteelfan

    When Cowher was here. Colbert wasn’t the GM. He was Director of Football operations. Largely semantic, but still an important difference. Colbert has made most of our good and bad picks over the years (you forget, Cowher didn’t really want Ben). He is no puppet.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Whatever we do I’m sure it will work. More concerned about the offense and their creativity.

  • Luke Shabro

    Since ’07 when Tomlin arrived we’ve drafted Woodley, Timmons, Brown, Wallace, Sanders, Mendenhall, Lewis, Allen and Pouncey. Clearly Colbert has no idea what he’s doing. You’re wrong on a bunch of levels. Hey maybe we can get rid of him and get somebody really good like Mike Tannenbaum or Mike Holmgren. There’s only a handful of guys that are excellent and Colbert is up there in the top five with Ozzie Newsome, Trent Baalke, Ted Thompson and John Schneider. Name me someone better. You’re wrong.

  • steeltown

    Dating Colberts tenure you can also add: Polamalu, Hampton, Keisel, Ike Taylor, Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Max Starks, Sepulveda, Beachum(7th Rder) not to mention the recent picks that we cant really gauge yet e.g. DeCastro, Adams, Spence, Shark Thomas, Vince Williams, M.Wheaton, Bell, Jarvis Jones

  • Matthew Marczi

    They already put him inside on occasion to blitz, so I have no doubt they will do it even more now. I would have to re-watch the first game again, but I know he blitzed from inside at least once or twice against the Titans.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Woods admittedly exploded on the stats sheet in a couple of games, but he also played twice the number of snaps that Heyward did in the preseason. For three of the four preseason games, the Steelers only have 5 defensive ends, so Woods ended up playing both second team with Cam and then third team with Brian Arnfelt, and then he got some reps at nose too. But Heyward had a strong preseason, especially as a pass rusher. He led the team with 10 pressures, with 1 sack, 2 hits, and 7 hurries.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Hmm…hard to disagree with that. Although better blocking will certainly make things seem more creative.

  • steeltown

    Nice stats

  • Reese Dare

    Jarvis Jones / Arthur Brown woulda been beast.

  • Steve

    I rewatched the game on the NFL network and our 2 OT sucked. Both on run blocking and pass blocking. There was a few times where they gave Ben some time but not very often. When the steelers ran the ball the runner was getting hit before he made the line of scrimage.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, but of course it wasn’t just them though. Nobody on the line really had a good day, and the tight ends were really disappointing as well. The entire team as a whole must execute their blocking assignments better and in a hurry for this year to be a success. Even Jerricho Cotchery struggled to block.

  • PA2AK

    Hood is a serious athlete for his size. With Woodley finally being healthy this year, they won’t be able to focus on Hood the way they have in the past, not to mention he has improved.Hood/Woodley is a LOT different than Hood/Worilds haha

  • PA2AK

    I get what you are saying, and they haven’t impressed most people. That said, what do you think our OLB health over the past two years has done to the DE effectiveness? Not worrying about a single healthy OLB really simplifies a gameplan.

  • PA2AK

    agreed. very thick with talent.

  • PA2AK

    I think it’s good to keep in mind that the guys getting the most reps in the preseason were being judged. Al Woods earned his spot with the time he got. Heyward wasn’t going anywhere. I’m looking for the DL to really shine this year. Having McClendon in the middle and healthy OLB’s will really change the offensive approach to handling them, not to mention the flexibility LeBeau has with talent and depth.

  • PA2AK

    Johnson is still getting his legs under him and he’s only a mediocre blocking TE. Paulson never heard of the concept. The TE depth/talent right now is tough to overcome, especially with a zone blocking scheme. We all have to remember that this is the first time these guys have been together. They looked OK prior to the Pouncey injury. Once he went out…seemed like they were rattled, especially DeCastro. Add in that Redman was litterally seeing his first snaps of the season in real speed…they were def. looking bad. As bad as they looked…with time, and a half decent TE back, these guys will get familiar with their assignments. Not many times were they being physically manhandled…which was not the case last year.

  • PA2AK

    and don’t forget that we didn’t have a FB all game! Excited to have big Will back!

  • Johnny Loose

    I like the idea of a 4-2-5. Keisel, McClendon, Hood, and Heyward would definetly generate pressure. with Timmons and Woodley at LB and Shamarko as the 5th DB, I think our defense would be solid, if not dominant. Give the O-line some time to Gel. They’re the youngest group of starters in the NFL with a new blocking scheme. I feel like by the time Bell comes back, the O-line will have some cohesion by then. Could be scary

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’d have to agree. VW looks like a player!

  • Douglas Andrews

    Your points are valid. Foote has been solid and really good at times. As was already pointed out Foote had career numbers in 2012 which was his 11th year in the league. Hard to argue with his production as a former 4th round draft pick. Foote’s has his limitations but he’s a veteran signal caller and fully capable ILB. I agree with you that you can’t have a playmaker at every position and lets not forget Foote started on 2 winning SB teams.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I would like to see the Steelers move Jones around much like the Ravens do with T Suggs. Would be a great if we could generate a pass rush from the outside with Woodley, Worilds and have Jarvis moving around creating some matchup problems for the Offenses.

  • Cody Younkin

    hopefully we don’t pass on C.J. Mosley this year..

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