Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker

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

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Kevin Gobleck

    i’m hoping that Spence comes back this year so that we can use earlier pics on some of four much larger needs

  • grw1960

    One of the many questions in this upcoming draft. Will the Steelers muddle through another season with their cobbled together crew at ILB. To upgrade another spot on the defense?
    Tune in at the end of March to see who is still on the roster. And again in early may to get the final answer.
    Some how , some way we need a future starting CB , depth and future starter at FS, better depth ( back ups) at OLB , better quality depth at RB and last but not least. A starting 3 down ILB.
    Not needed but sure could use another WR and a quality LOT.
    Sounds like a want add to me.

  • 243546

    The Steelers do need to upgrade at ILB, but there’s a couple of directions they could go. Mosley is probably the only true 3 down ILB in this draft, although he has big time durability issues. During the 2012 season, Mosley dislocated his elbow and hip, and also required off season shoulder surgery. If the Steelers don’t end up drafting Mosley, then I think they will stick with Foote and Vince Williams at the Buck in base 3-4. Where the team doesn’t have a proven answer is who to play at the position in sub packages. The defense needs someone with speed, coverage ability, but can still make plays against the run. I think Spence was supposed to be that guy, but his future is still uncertain. Ryan Shazier would be a good option for the role of nickel backer. He’s undersized for a LB, but he has speed, coverage ability, and is a willing hitter as a run defender. There’s a lot of similarities between Shazier and Carnell Lake when he was a LB at UCLA.

  • cencalsteeler

    I tend to go against the grain when it comes to the lb position. Like Matt states, Timmons position is set. I was pleasantly surprised with Williams play this year and I definitely feel his arrow is pointing up. He has room for improvement, but what rookie doesn’t. A year with Foote guiding him is going to improve his game that much more. The weakness of coverage and “bringing his feet” is definitely a correctable thing. The Steelers always have a good knack for finding lb talent in the later rounds. But, if Mosley is there, BPA would not surprise me either, though I feel we have more pressing needs at other positions currently.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I get a feeling there will be no ILB pick in the first 5 rounds. They may just let these fight it out even if they end up will role players. Remember there is that outside chance that a Spence or V. Williams somehow explodes onto the scene. We can hope.

  • Matt Manzo

    Thanx for the injury report! People keep saying it’s an issue but I didn’t know the specifics. I wouldn’t take him at 15 cuz of that and I don’t think it’s that high of a need. I would like to see us either get some competition for Williams or someone to groom as Timmons heir.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    Mosley may not be a 3-down NFL ILB for a while; this was his first year of COLLEGE as a 3-down ILB. If he works hard to adjust to the speed of the game and can be coached up well (i.e. be put in the right scheme), then he will pan out. Risk of not panning out is there as well. Though the injury concerns are there, I’m more worried about Nix’s knee than I am with Mosley’s upper extremity. I like the technique and fundamentals and quickness of Skov and Borland, and I do believe both can be coached up easily (as could Mosley feasibly, no discredit to him).

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Dan Molls was one of my surprises in this last draft. He is a tackling machine and I wouldnt be surprised if he made the team at least as a ST guy.

  • Axe Skot

    I hope Spence makes a comeback, but he would be a mack like Timmons, wouldn’t he? Now I know there is no real reason that you can’t have two macks on the field at the same time, but do you really want Timmons to go back to engaging linemen (buck responsibilities) and lose his ability to make tackles in the backfield? I don’t see Spence playing the buck. If there is an elite IL at 1:15, take him, but I for one am rooting for a more mentally sound Williams in year two. It was well documented on here how well Williams physically handled blockers at the line of scrimmage.