The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t entirely sure what they had at inside linebacker last season, at least when it came to reserve players. They made sure to stock up on the position with low-profile free agent signings and late- to post-draft rookie additions.
That translated into a heated training camp competition that went down to the wire through all four preseason games, only to come away with five of them on the opening-day 53-man roster. And after Larry Foote was lost for the season, Stevenson Sylvester, an early favorite, was eventually brought back during the course of the season.
Foote is out in Arizona now, but the Steelers certainly have not ignored the inside linebacker position this year, as they figure to have another competition on their hands this summer that goes at least four rows deep.
Next to Lawrence Timmons, rookie Ryan Shazier has already been installed into the starting lineup. That is seemingly pretty close to already set in stone.
Last year’s rookie surprise, Vince Williams, now finds himself as the second-string buck linebacker for now, but the man he’s lining up next to is the cherry on top.
Sean Spence is the second-team mack linebacker this summer, two years after tearing up his knee to the point where the nerves behind his knee cap partially separated and were damaged. It’s been a long road, but he appears to be back, adding immensely to the team’s available depth.
Then there are some carryovers from last season: namely Kion Wilson and Terence Garvin. Wilson was one of the veteran signings, who made the team, and got first dibs at replacing Foote last season. He was outperformed by Williams and eventually found himself on the practice squad, but he’s back to compete for his spot again.
Garvin, an undrafted rookie invitee signing last season, earned his pay on special teams for most of the season before taking some reps late in the year. He has inside-outside flexibility, but his size makes him an ideal sub-package candidate if they can keep him out of the running game.
Rookie Jordan Zumwalt has taken reps primarily on the outside so far, but once training camp begins, you would figure that the bulk of his concentration will come inside, where he clearly projects long-term in this system. First-year linebacker Dan Molls was a reserve signing who has opened some eyes as well.
This is not even to mention Arthur Moats, who was brought in knowing that he is capable of playing all four linebacker positions. Because the depth at outside linebacker is far less than that of the inside positions, Moats has been stuck taking his reps on the outside, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t get at least some playing time over the next two months inside.
Of the two main reserves at the position, Williams already has several starts to his name, and showed steady improvement as a rookie last season. Meanwhile, Spence would have likely already been in the starting lineup had it not been for his injury.
Add in the experience of Moats and the promise offered by the rest of the herd, and we figure to be gearing up for yet another exciting position battle this year.