Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Inside Linebackers

By Alex Kozora

A Pittsburgh Steelers player by player recap, grouped by position, reviewing the 2013 season. A review of the squad’s inside linebackers.

Lawrence Timmons: Timmons was the rock of the defense in 2013. It didn’t come in spectacular fashion but his consistency was sorely needed for a defense that overall, struggled.

He led the team in tackles with 126, recording at least five in every game. He played all 1093 defensive snaps, one of only 12 defensively in the NFL to play all 100% (Troy Polamalu also played them all, making the Steelers as the only team to have multiple players do so). Often times, he lived the lonely life of being the only inside linebacker on the field when the team employed dime personnel. Presumably, that put the burden of the playcall and communication on him (Troy may have also had some responsibility when he played faux LB).

That isn’t to say it was a perfect season. Although tough to avoid sometimes, he got sealed vs inside runs.

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*Timmons blocked by #67, Jordan Mills.

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Like the rest of the defense, there were issues with poor tackling and being over-aggressive. Best example of the latter came against the New England Patriots where Timmons sees a nasty split to one side and assumes the run is going that way. Doesn’t read his keys of the pulling RG and is sorely out of position.

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And biting on playaction that opened up a crosser. Not the most egregious offense but one he likely was kicking himself over in the film room that next week.

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But the good by far outweighs the bad. He is a sound tackler and I love this takedown of Giovani Bernard in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. With the back trying to cut and Timmons running downhill on an angle

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He gets his hips square to the runner

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And makes the tackle

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Against Baltimore, he tacks on the extra task of having to swim over the block of left guard Kelechi Osemele. Again, brings down the runner as he tries to cutback.

His speed and recognition of plays allows him to fill his gaps quickly and effectively. Whether that be forcing the back to bounce a run to the outside and staying lateral,

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Or containing backs and forcing them to the flow inside

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I wrote this early in the season and still believe it to be true. There aren’t many linebackers in the league that flows to the run better than Lawrence Timmons.

That athleticism is an asset in coverage too. And it allows Dick LeBeau more versatility in his blitz packages.

The Steelers line up Timmons over the “A” gap and wind up bringing Polamalu off the right side (from the defense’s perspective). Naturally, quarterback Brandon Weeden is going to look towards his hot read and favorite target, Jordan Cameron.

But Timmons bails into coverage on the snap and is able to get in the way of the throwing lane to Cameron. Pass ends up incomplete.

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That’s athleticism at its premium.

Timmons is another hustle player who doesn’t quit and is apt to chasing plays down.

The Steelers missed out on Darrelle Revis in the 2007 draft. But they got one heck of a consolation prize.

He is under contract through the 2016 season.

Larry Foote: His season lasted just 59 snaps before rupturing his biceps Week One against the Tennessee Titans. He only got one mention in my game notes, missing a tackle on Chris Johnson despite being unblocked. The veteran linebacker went down late in the game and found himself on injured reserve. His arm injuries began in camp, wearing a sleeve to protect a hematoma.

Foote is an average inside linebacker at this stage in his career but his presence was missed due to the lack of depth on the team. The correlation between Foote’s injury and the lack of base personnel is not a coincidence. The Steelers were in base on 43 on his 49 snaps Week 1. By the end of the year, they had played over 200 more snaps of subpackage football than base.

The buck (quite literally, the buck linebacker) was passed onto the duo of Kion Wilson and Vince Williams before Williams eventually “won” the job but saw limited snaps. Foote was in charge of the defensive calls. Losing that was the most devastating effect.

Now that Vince Williams has a year under his belt and impressed in his rookie year, Foote may be expendable. Certainly isn’t getting any better with age. Turning 34 in the middle of June, he is under contract for cheap but with the team trying to balance their salary cap, it wouldn’t be surprised if he was released. It’d be less in dead money (666K) than keeping him at this point (1.8 million).

Vince Williams: The 6th round rookie wasn’t supposed to be counted on for much in his rookie campaign. But he was thrust into action following Larry Foote’s injury and simply played better than Kion Wilson, earning the starting nod at Buck linebacker in Week Four against the Minnesota Vikings.

His terribly inconsistent snap count has to be acknowledged. He only saw 402 snaps on defense in 2013, only 22 more than Will Allen, who was signed mid-way through the season. From an evaluation standpoint, it can be difficult to get a confident read on a player. From his standpoint, a personal growth one, it’s difficult to get better and stack good plays/games/weeks/ when you play as little as 15-20 snaps a game. Once played just five meaningful snaps in one of his matchups against Baltimore.

Naturally, as he got more comfortable a few weeks after being inserted into the starting lineup, he started to trust his instincts more and play faster. I wrote after my breakdown of him against the New York Jets

“Williams looks light years ahead of where he was just a few weeks ago. It’s obvious he’s picking up the defense at a rapid pace allowing him to trust his instincts more and play considerably faster.”

In that game, he blew up a screen pass to the back before Nick Mangold could get to the flats in time.

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He played as he was billed coming out of college. A two down thumper against the run. Not afraid to throw his body around. Exemplifies that here, taking on Baltimore Ravens’ fullback Vonta Leach, shedding, and making the tackle.

And he did a lot of dirty work on the goalline late in the season. He holds the point against 322 pound Domata Peko .

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The following week, takes on the block from 337 pound B.J. Raji correctly (aiming for outside shoulder) sheds, and brings down Eddie Lacy for a loss.

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Do that and live to tell about it? You’ll gain a lot of respect in the locker room.

He can also hold his own sideline to sideline and not just playing inside runs. Understands angles to the football and can get to the edge.

Referring back to the Jets game, he stays at home against this end around (something Jarvis Jones fails to do) and takes a perfect angle, making the tackle.

Exhibits it again in the final week, taking on the FB and forcing the back to cut it inside.

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Playing the run isn’t just about being the stronger, more violent player. It takes brains too and Williams shows it in that respect.

Still, he had many rookie woes. Got caught out of position all the time and probably a bigger reason why his playing time was limited more than what it had to do with him in coverage.

He slides down one gap more than he should have early in the year against the Bengals, letting the RB go for 14.

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In Week 4, he’s lined up over the same gap as Ziggy Hood. Adrian Peterson reels off a 60 yard TD.

Likely overpursues on this Darren McFadden touchdown vs the Oakland Raiders.

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He bit on the fake to Eddie Lacy on a John Kuhn FB dive against Green Bay.

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Williams, as alluded to, was taken off the field on almost all passing downs. Obviously, the coaching staff has a better feel for what he is capable of than anyone else but none of his work in coverage really sticks out to me as being negative. Hope to see him get a better chance to earn the opportunity to be more than a run down linebacker next season. Ostensibly, he will.

He was also an asset on special teams serving time on kick return coverage the majority of the year. He logged time on kick coverage late in the year and had a key onside kick recovery against Baltimore.

It was a rocky rookie season but I was encouraged with what I saw. Excited to see how he builds on it next season.

Kion Wilson: Wilson did a good job to overcome the odds and make the team out of camp, beating out Marshall McFadden and Brian Rolle who were pegged as favorites. He earned a hat on nearly every special teams’ unit Week One and then started Weeks Two and Three at inside linebacker.

His play wasn’t particularly inspiring and he had his fair share of missed assignments, too. Dropped into the flats when he should’ve gone into a hook zone against the Bengals.

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After losing his starting job, he yo-yo’ed between the practice squad and 53 man roster. Wilson finished the year with 12 tackles and 132 snaps on special teams. He signed a futures contract at the end of the year.

Wilson has a tremendous yet heart-breaking back story, overcoming the murder of his father and two brothers as a child. He’s a person you root for. But it’ll be an uphill battle to stick to the roster next season. Like this year, he’ll have to prove his worth on special teams.

Terence Garvin: Garvin, like Wilson, earned his hat because of his play on special teams. In Week 1, he was a starter on the kick coverage/return units along with punt returns. He played his first NFL snap against the Bills, getting one rep at ILB. But it was a trend that grew in the coming weeks. The former Mountaineer logged 32 snaps on defense and became the team’s true nickel linebacker in its traditional 2-4-5 layout.

It cultimated in Week 15 against the Packers as he played 13 snaps in the first half before exiting with a knee injury. However, it wasn’t an impressive performance as he was repeatedly sealed and washed in the run game. With him in the game, Green Bay ran six times for 58 yards or 9.7 YPC and a score.

Because of that, unless he gains a lot of functional strength, he too will be nothing more than a special teamer. He is signed for a measly 495K in 2014 and will be an exclusive rights free agent after that.

Sean Spence: Spence is still on the road to trying to overcome a devastating knee injury that included a torn ACL and nerve damage. While Mike Tomlin showed optimism in the offseason, as head coaches are wont to do, linebackers coach Keith Butler predicted a comeback for this season to be “miraculous”. The latter proved to be true. Spence started the season on the PUP list but was transferred to injured reserve Week 7.

He’ll keep fighting next season and will then be nearly two years removed from the gruesome injury. But with one so serious, it reminds me of what happened to Leonard Weaver, it’s questionable at best to believe he’ll ever become a contributor. I think he’ll suit up and get back onto the football field but he can’t be counted on for anything coming into training camp.

Dan Molls: Molls was signed to a futures contract earlier this month. At 6’0 238, he previously spent time with the San Diego Chargers. He’ll serve as a body throughout the spring and could be an early cut in training camp.

Up Next: Cornerbacks

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Quarterbacks
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Running Backs
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Wide Receivers
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tight Ends
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tackles
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Centers/Guards
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Defensive Linemen
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Outside Linebackers

Senior in college, blogging from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • steeltown

    Good group of young LBs inside, but of course we could always upgrade the position. I think V.Williams turned some heads. I think Wilson and Garvin will battle it out for backup nickel and special teams duties once again. I seem to remember Garvin playing some OLB in the preseason, so that might factor in to the decision as well.

    Unless of course an ILB is drafted then you have to figure them into the mix and assume they have a decent chance of making the roster in place of the aforementioned.

  • grw1960

    I tend to think Foot will be back for one more season.
    But I would not be surprised to see the Steelers draft an OLB/ILB type in the first four rounds. Meaning an ILB or an OLB that has the skills and brains to be converted to an ILB.

  • Callentown

    Injuries are a part of the game for sure. But, it’s really too bad that Sean Spence did not get a chance to show what he could do (same goes for Embernasty and DE N. Williams with pre-season injuries).

    If Spence had not gotten injured, we may not be talking about any needs at ILB.

    Here’s hoping Mosley falls somehow to #15 and that Spence isn’t finished.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Any draft of an ILB comes down to one thing for me….what does the Front Office and Coaching Staff think of Williams long-term potential.

  • chris ward

    Will be interesting to see what the Steelers do at the ILB position in the off-season. Foote out with an injury, showed how valuable he was to the defense with bringing veteran leadership and lining people up in the right position.

  • James Kling

    I’d take a look at Andrew Jackson (WKU) R5 or later. Could be a sleeper who can provide some thump in the middle.

  • 20Stoney

    Once again, a very good article!

  • Patrick Reid

    Really liked what I saw with AJ last year but he decided to stay in school. I like him even more in the 5th or later.He’s projected to go late. I think its because of his lack of speed ans atheltiscm. Great motor and relentless like his idol Ray Lewis. If we go higher. I would love to see us tap FSU again and get Christian Jones at ILB. Great athelete, really good cover skills. Love the idea of him next to Timmons.

  • grw1960

    Forgot to add very good article and info on Vince Williams

  • LayDownTheHammer

    I do not think we need to draft an early ILB; you can make the argument for one later but this isn’t an absolute necessity (unlike CB, OLB, S). Vince showed enough real promise to consider him as a starter for the time being, although this time next year we will see if that is the case – we need to assess in training camp how much he has improved on his tackling fundamentals which is the #1 thing he needs to work on. I respect Spence a lot for what he has gone through (even before the ACL, coming from the hood in Miami) and think he deserves a rookie’s chance beginning this year (which means more than one season trial). If he becomes a competent backup and ST player I will be legitimately happy with and for him. Kion Wilson, Terence Garvin, etc. are solid backups and ST players. Thus my opinion of drafting.

    As far as the draft, I know Mosley is head and shoulders above everyone else, but from the tape, he was not a 3-down ILB before this year; his fundamentals and technique need work so he will not be a Day 1 starter (or maybe Year 1) unless the team has no one else. He doesn’t do 1 thing solidly, and compared to other recent Alabama LBs (Hightower, Upshaw), he is not as advanced as them at the same stage. Better than him I like Skov and Borland. Both are very cerebral, which is the most important thing for an ILB aside from fundamentals/tackling/technique. Size to me is not a glaring issue, although draftniks will knock both for “non-optimal” size.

  • Shawn Winbush

    don’t even sweat it! Mosley is gonna drop to us @ 15,ans Spence makes the miraculous recovery we have been hoping for.what was once a concern will now be an abundance of talent,relax! lol

  • Douglas Andrews

    Vince Williams is gonna be a beast if he learns pass coverage he really is a plugger on running plays. Really rooting for Spence hopes he makes it back from the injury to becoming a force at ILB.

  • Chad H

    I still think we only scratched the surface of Garvin’s talent. I would not anoint Williams as the starter just yet. I have a feeling there is more untapped talent in him than Williams. This is not a bash on Williams. I like him too. Just saying keep watching Garvin.