Steelers Lineup Turnover 2014 – Inside Linebacker

When you look back just to the start of last season and project the starting lineup that the Pittsburgh Steelers can be expected to field when they resume play in September, you’ll see that they’ve undergone quite a bit of change. Certainly more than usual.

With two exceptions—Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell—the changes to the opening day lineup will be made either due to free agency losses or gains or simply superior play. The two aforementioned players, of course, projected as starters but missed the early portions of last season due to injury.

This series will take a look primarily at the starting positions that will be filled by new faces, replacing the old faces that are now gone—Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark.

Position: Inside Linebacker

2013 Opening Day Starter: Larry Foote

Projected 2014 Starter: TBD [Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Sean Spence]

The starter at the buck inside linebacker position will most certainly change in 2014, given that the previous opening day starter, Larry Foote, has gone to pasture in Arizona, where seemingly upwards of 50 percent of all aging former Steelers wind up.

There are three prime candidates to take his place, and only one has playing experience. So we’ll start with him.

Vince Williams, a second-year compensatory draft pick in the sixth round, emerged as a surprise last season when he was forced to play following Foote’s season-ending injury in the opener. He started most of the season at the position, but was heavily substituted in passing situations, as was the case in college.

His strongest case to hang on to his job for a bit longer would be if he can prove to be more consistent in coverage, but given the athleticism of the other two candidates, it’s still likely that he could be substituted in obvious passing situations even if he’s the token starter.

Still, he gradually improved during the season and became a solid contributor—in limited snaps—by year’s end.

Ryan Shazier has only had a few weeks’ worth of time to start soaking in the defense, having been drafted by the Steelers with the 15th overall pick in the draft, but he figures to have a decent shot of being the opening day starter.

Unlike Williams, should Shazier start, it would figure to prompt Lawrence Timmons to move from the mack to the buck. The same could be said of Timmons if Sean Spence should win the job, as both are smaller builds less adept at taking on and shedding blockers.

Spence has missed the past two seasons, primarily with a career-threatening knee injury, but a broken finger helped stifle the life out of the 2013 season when he was unable to practice because of it while trying to come off the PUP list.

Now nearing two years removed from the injury, Spence is seemingly working without limitations for the first time in quite a while. The real test will come when live contact starts. Spence’s main asset would figure to be his knowledge of the defense, which he has been soaking up in the classroom for two seasons now. Outside of Timmons, he’s the most veteran of the team’s inside linebackers in this scheme.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Birdman

    I see Shazier starting beside Timmons day 1 with Williams and Spence backing them up. I have a feeling that Jordan Zumwalt is gonna surprise a lot of people at camp.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    It’s like watching something in super slow motion.

    I wanted a guard for so long until finally I decide I just want them to draft best guard available after trying to fill the positions with low draft choices that never worked out and somehow Decastro falls.

    Inside linebacker was a lot like that as Farrior slowed and every year there were really good players like Kuechly & Ogletree that I really wanted but that we passed on.

    Building through the draft might be sound but it’s painfully slow unless you get lucky. It’s hard to imagine an everyday job with a 2-3 day per year window to improve.

    I’ve decided that the best solution is to increase the number of drafts and go with 2 rounds every 3 months.

    BigEville recommended changes to the NFL season

    Quarterly drafts. Sorry late rounders, come back in 3 months and maybe you’ll be more serious

    Add a second practice squad for each team that is a developmental squad. Long term contracts allowed. $100,000 year maximum salary.

    2 pre season games

    Extra Playoff round

    International developmental league run by the NFL for undrafted players. Teams in Vegas, Atlantic City, Macau, London, Munich, Shanghai and Tokyo. This creates international momentum for the game while not forcing a lot of travel for the professionals. It would also increase the available player pool and provides training for prospects who need more time and development or who couldn’t get into college. This should pay for itself, provide excellent marketing and adds thousands of people who are financially vested in the sport.

    Rotate Superbowl rights. Each team either gets to host a superbowl or sell the rights to a competing city. Any profit has to pay for stadium replacement or improvement.

  • blue

    Williams is a bull against the run, so he stays in on run downs. Shazier learns the defense & plays primarily on passing downs. Spence teams with Zumwalt as Special Teams Aces.