A look at where things stand at LB


The Steelers entered the offseason aware of the questions they faced at linebacker and the time at their disposal to answer them.

"We're worried about the depth if we had to play today," General Manager Kevin Colbert observed before heading to Indianapolis for last month's NFL combine.

"We're worried about it today but I feel comfortable we'll be fine once we get to August."

Since then the Steelers have lost outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who was an unrestricted free agent, to retirement and re-signed outside linebacker Arthur Moats.

Moats joined 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones as players under contract with NFL experience at the outside linebacker position.

Jones had exited 2014 determined to prepare to make 2015 his breakthrough season.

"Absolutely," he maintained. "My first year wasn't as good as I wanted and this year really put me behind the ball. I have a lot of work to do.

"I have to continue to get better and work hard and have an awesome season."

Jones had one sack in 14 games (eight starts) as a rookie in 2013 and two sacks in seven games last season. He started the first three games in 2014 and collected both of his sacks before suffering a wrist injury on Sept. 21 at Carolina that forced him to miss nine games and play one-handed thereafter.

"Prior to Jarvis dislocating his wrist he was doing some good things," Colbert assessed. "The play he got hurt on was a special play.

"We anticipate that continuing."

Also on the roster at the position are first-year pros Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon.

Howard Jones was an undrafted rookie from Shepherd who spent last season on the Steelers' practice squad.

Lemon wasn't drafted out of Akron in 2011 and spent the last two seasons playing defensive end for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.

Moats' return ensured the Steelers won't have to reach for an outside linebacker in the draft.

He played in 16 games and started 10 and produced a career-high four sacks after arriving as a free agent from Buffalo and also contributed on special teams. Moats was perceived as a player who would play significant snaps prior to the Steelers learning of Worilds' retirement.

Another veteran potentially in the mix at outside linebacker is James Harrison.

He re-signed with the Steelers out of retirement last Sept. 23 and wound up playing in 11 games, starting three and registering five-and-a-half sacks.

Harrison's play in 2014 convinced the Steelers he could help them again in 2015 provided the circumstances were right for yet another return.

One potential scenario is Harrison remaining unsigned until approximately mid-August, which would afford the Steelers an opportunity to develop youngsters such as Howard Jones, Lemon and whatever the draft might provide and also save Harrison the rigors of OTAs, minicamp and much of training camp. Harrison, who turns 37 on May 4, would then sign a couple of weeks prior to the start of the regular season.

"That's six in one hand and half a dozen in another," Harrison said when such a scenario was broached at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign. "I didn't have to go through training camp (this season) but at the same time it still took me four weeks to get back into shape, to drop 20, 30 pounds."

At inside linebacker the Steelers have pedigree and potential.

Lawrence Timmons made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2014 and first-round pick Ryan Shazier was inserted as a starter on Day One of OTAs before succumbing to injury and inconsistency during the regular season. Shazier's position next to Timmons was predominantly shared by third-year pro Sean Spence and second-year pro Vince Williams during the season's second half.

The draft will likely supplement the position, particularly the outside linebacker position.

"Most of the outside linebackers in our defense have come from the defensive end position," in college, Colbert said. "Most of them have been really successful (transitioning as pros).

"We just have to try to make those same types of decisions and picks as we go forward."    

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