With free agency and the draft behind us, we can begin to take a look at what the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers will look like. Let’s start with the linebackers for this post. Not much has changed with this group, and that may be cause for concern. No significant free agents were added, and a linebacker wasn’t drafted until the 6th round.
The outside linebackers are the real worry here. James Harrison led the group with only 5 sacks. Pretty dismal for a team that relies on its outside backers for the majority of the pass rush. At 38 Harrison showed he still has something left in the tank, but can Pittsburgh bank on another full season from the 5 time Pro Bowler? Former first round pick Jarvis Jones has been a huge disappointment. While being good against the run, he’s shown no signs of being even a decent edge rusher. The real hope is that Bud Dupree takes a giant leap forward in his second season. Dupree showed flashes last season, but still ended the year with only 4 sacks. Arthur Moats is a reliable back up, but nothing more. Last years 6th round pick Anthony Chickillo, and this years 6th rounder Travis Feeney are interesting but unproven to this point.
Inside linebacker is a different story, as it is the one of the strengths of the defense. Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons came together last season to become a dynamic combination for the Steelers. Shazier showed he has the skills to be an elite linebacker in the NFL. After a slow start, Timmons came on to prove he still is a valuable cog in the middle of the Steelers defense. Depth is the only real concern at this position. Pittsburgh lost both Sean Spence and Terence Garvin to free agency, leaving only Vince Williams as an experienced back up for 2016. The Steelers did sign Steven Johnson who played for the Titans under old friend Dick LeBeau last season . Johnson does have some experience, but he is mainly a special teams player.
Pittsburgh is gambling that the outside linebacking core can improve in a big way in 2016. They ignored the position in free agency to shore up the offensive line and tight end. The same can be said of the draft, where the Steelers addressed the other position of weakness the secondary. Bud Dupree is the key player here. If he can become a dominant pass rusher, everything else will fall into place. Jones and Harrison are good enough to man the other outside linebacker positon, as long as Dupree can become a force opposite them. In the end, the Steelers may have to rely on the defensive line and safeties to get enough of a pass rush again this season. This set of linebackers is good, but not the type of dominating players Steelers fans have become accustomed to over the years.