Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted several players that played defensive end in college only to convert them into 3-4 outside linebackers. Mike Vrabel was one of those players and the current Houston Texans linebackers coach recently talked about how tough the transition can be from defensive end to outside linebacker in an interview with Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com.
“Just playing in space, playing on your feet. Instead of being in a three-point stance, you’re in a two-point stance,” said Vrabel, who played defensive end at Ohio State before being drafted by the Steelers in the third-round of the 1997 NFL Draft. “There’s coverage responsibilities, there’s rush responsibilities, most importantly really just playing in space and understanding how to tackle defenders in space as opposed to in close areas.”
Luckily for Steelers, second-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at Georgia, so he already had some experience at playing in space upon arriving in Pittsburgh. However, he still has a ways to go in his development when it comes to rush responsibilities.
On the other hand and side, the Steelers starter opposite Jones, Jason Worilds, played defensive end at Virginia Tech, so the learning curve was likely a lot tougher for him. Based on his play last season, he’s improved quite a bit in all areas of his game and the hope is that 2014 is his best season ever.
Currently, the Steelers two primary backups at the outside linebacker position, Chris Carter and Arthur Moats, were also defensive ends in college. Carter still hasn’t shown yet that he can play in space and the same can be said for Moats, who mostly played inside during his time with the Buffalo Bills.
Hopefully both Jones and Worilds stay healthy in 2014 so as we don’t have to see either of their backups play a considerable amount of snaps. If they do, we will know real quick whether or not they have mastered the learning curve. In the case of Vrabel, who never started a game during his four seasons in Pittsburgh, he said that he was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented people when he was with the Steelers and that helped with his transition.
“I had good coaches, I had good players,” said Vrabel. “We had really good linebackers in Pittsburgh so there was the testimonial, there was the examples, there was ownership. They were veterans. Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon, Earl Holmes. Guys that were good football players in the National Football League on our defense on our team. They helped with the transition, they helped with the learning curve. Sometimes you can learn from a coach, sometimes you need to learn from a player. Good pros, they’re going to teach the younger guys.”
In the case of the 2014 Steelers, it’s going to come down to the coaches as the team certainly doesn’t have the experienced veterans to lean on like Vrabel had when he was playing in Pittsburgh. This was probably one of the reasons why Joey Porter was hired as a defensive assistant during the offseason. He’s not too far removed from the game, so having him around is like having a player and coach all rolled up into one. According to Vrabel’s comments, that’s exactly what the Steelers need right now with all of the inexperience that they currently have at the outside linebacker position.