By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
The Steelers were forced to take a look at some of their inside linebacker depth last season a lot earlier than they anticipated thanks to the injury to Larry Foote in the first game of the year, which knocked him out for the remaining 15 games.
The two reserve linebackers at the beginning of the season had zero playing experience on defense. Kion Wilson, new to the team, had spent parts of 2010 and 2011 contributing on special teams for various clubs, while Vince Williams was a rookie. Both will be back next season, but will Foote?
Lawrence Timmons: Lawrence Timmons is the workhorse of the defense, and when on his game, can be the best player on the team, a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 2013 was not his best season; however, he still made an extraordinary amount of impressive plays. He finished with 126 tackles, often playing as the sole inside linebacker, while accumulating two interceptions, six pass deflections, three sacks, and a forced fumble.
His athleticism allows the defense to do things with him that other teams can’t, simply because they don’t have a player with his special talents. He can stuff the run, he can cover backs and tight ends, and he can rush the passer. He can even call the defense when pressed. I believe that some defensive instability resulted in Timmons’ uneven year. The team will need him to be more consistent next year.
Larry Foote: Foote is still under contract for one more season on an admittedly affordable contract worth less than $2 million. Releasing him would save not much more than $1 million, minus displacement costs, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still on the team in 2014, even if it’s as a backup. He’s well past his prime, but he knows the defense better than anybody, and can still be a valuable mentor.
Vince Williams: Williams ended up starting most of the season after not even being active on opening day. He mostly played up to his scouting report as a heady run-stuffer who came off the field on passing downs. He showed obvious room for growth, but his ceiling is unknown. Is it consistent quality starter? That’s what the Steelers would like to find out.
Kion Wilson: Even though he quickly flamed out as a starter replacement for Foote, Wilson bounced between the practice squad and the 53-man roster all season. A solid special teams contributor, he may yet prove to be quality depth on defense.
Terence Garvin: Likely the biggest surprise to make the 53-man roster, Terence Garvin was not only undrafted, he was also unsigned following the draft. He initially made the 90-man offseason roster from a minicamp invitation, and he rode that all the way to playing time late in the season before getting injured. While he proved to be liable on running downs, his quickness and agility could help him get on the field on passing downs.
Sean Spence: The fact that Spence was even able to go through a couple practices in 2013 is a true wonder, and it would be extraordinary if he ever takes the field again, let alone plays at a high level. The team won’t give up on him this year and will give him every opportunity to be on the 53-man roster, but there’s no telling if that will happen. He can’t influence the Steelers’ offseason plans.
Dan Molls: Just a body. A second-year undrafted free agent with no playing experience. He’s at the bottom of an already very long totem pole, to be quite honest.
Draft Strategy: Even if he hasn’t shown much in four seasons, Stevenson Sylvester could still be in the plans, at least for training camp competition, increasing the depth at the position even further than it already is.
But there’s only one true, legitimate high-quality player at the position, and that’s Timmons. If somebody like C.J. Mosley is on the board when the Steelers pick in the first round, he could very well be the guy.
While Williams was a surprise for a sixth-round rookie draft pick, by no means did he blow the doors off the facility and locked up a starting spot for years to come. The interior defense—the nose tackle and the two inside linebackers—are the heart of the 3-4 defense, around which everything else gravitates, so it’s never a position that should be ignored.
I can see Foote playing out his last contract. I can see Williams keeping his starting spot. I could see a first-round pick potentially starting, at least by season’s end. There’s still some clarity to seek at the Buck position, certainly, but I do know that Timmons is a constant. I would be rather surprised if another inside linebacker isn’t taken at some point in the draft, even if it’s a pick aimed for depth.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle