If you had to pick one position group on the Pittsburgh Steelers that you were most worried about heading into the 2014, which one would it be? For me, it would be the outside linebacker position.
The Steelers pass rush hasn’t been great over the last several seasons now and their 34 sacks last year was their lowest total since 1990. That number needs to increase by 15 or so in 2014 and that will only happen if the outside linebackers play well.
The Steelers jettisoned LaMarr Woodley out of town during the offseason and that left the team with Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones as the their two starters heading into 2014.
Worilds was rewarded with the transition tag during the offseason for his eight sack performance in 2013, but now has to show that wasn’t a mirage by topping those numbers in 2014.
As for Jones, the Steelers first round draft pick last season, he finished his rookie season with only one sack despite him starting eight games and playing 646 snaps. While many of us aren’t expecting double-digit sacks from him in his second season, anything less than eight really will be disappointing.
Behind the two starters currently sits Arthur Moats and Chris Carter. Moats, who was signed as a free agent during the offseason, really has yet to show that he can play the 3-4 outside linebacker position at the NFL level as he was moved around quite a bit in the various defensive schemes that he played in while with the Buffalo Bills. In college, Moats was an undersized defensive end, so it will be interesting to watch him perform during the preseason.
As for Carter, the Steelers fifth round draft pick in 2011, he has yet to show much of anything during his first three years in the league when given the opportunity. At this point, he should know the Steelers defensive scheme inside and out, and really needs a strong training camp and preseason.
When you consider that it’s unlikely that both Worilds and Jones will be able to play every defensive snap in 2014 for one reason or another, you can see how it’s very important that either Moats or Carter are able to come off of the bench and contribute without any drop-off.
Beyond those four players, it’s pretty much wide open as far as the depth chart goes at the outside linebacker position. There’s been rumblings during the offseason that second-year linebacker Terence Garvin might see some time on the outside during training camp and the same goes for Jordan Zumwalt, one of two sixth-round draft picks back in May. Also battling for a roster spot is Vic So’oto, who came into the league with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent back in 2011 and has bounced around the league with a few other teams ever since.
Another player to watch is undrafted free agent Howard Jones out of Shepherd University. Jones is very raw, however, and will have a hard enough time just making the final 53 man roster.
In order to help this group live up to their potential, the Steelers hired former linebacker Joey Porter as a defensive assistant during the offseason. When the hitting finally begins at training camp, Porter will get an even better idea as to what Jones and the rest of the outside linebacker group needs work on. Should this position group turn things around in 2014, you can bet that he will have played a huge part in it. The question is, will they?