Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers roster in advance of the start of free agency on March 10:*
(Free Agent Scorecard: 3 unrestricted – James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Jason Worilds)
The argument can be made that Harrison helped save the Steelers' season by coming out of retirement and giving them quality starter-level play opposite Jason Worilds. Despite being on the roster for only 11 games, and admittedly needing to get himself into shape on the fly, Harrison finished third on the team in both sacks, with 5.5, and in quarterback pressures, with 14. Also, do not discount the calming effect his mere presence on the field had for some of the younger defensive players, because no matter what his birth certificate might read, nobody on any opposing team wants to mess with James Harrison. He deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Steelers linebackers, but the team needs to be better at this critical position than to have to sign a 37-year-old to bail them out on the eve of the 2015 regular season.
It was one of those intriguing training camp stories. An undrafted rookie defensive end from Shepherd University, located in a place called Shepherdstown, West Virginia, trying to transition to outside linebacker and make a Steelers team that has had its share of recent success with unknown undrafted rookies – James Harrison, Willie Parker, to name just two. During the preseason, Jones had three tackles, a couple of fumble recoveries – one of which he returned for a touchdown – and two special teams tackles, but he wasn't ready for the NFL. It was obvious, and the Steelers were able to stash him on the practice squad. Jones will get another chance this summer to win a spot at a position where the Steelers have a pronounced need.
Photos of the Steelers Outside Linebackers during the 2014 season.
If this defensive makeover the Steelers currently are attempting is to be a success, Jones has to emerge as a star. He has to develop into a worthy successor at a position that has held the likes of Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter and James Harrison. Jones' 2014 was wasted, ruined by a dislocated wrist in Carolina on Sept. 21 that required surgery and essentially ended his second NFL season. There's no way of knowing how 2014 goes for Jones without that injury, and there's still really no way of knowing if Jones can give the Steelers what they need from the right outside linebacker spot. For both Jones' and the Steelers' sake, 2015 had better be a turning point.
The Miami Dolphins struck pass-rushing gold a few years back when they signed Cameron Wake from the CFL, and the Steelers went prospecting north of the border for the same thing and came back with Lemon. After his college career at Akron ended in 2011, Lemon tried the CFL, but after being cut by both Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, he decided to try Arena Football, and he played for San Jose and Orlando before going to the Indoor Football League to play for Sioux Falls. Then it was back to the CFL in 2012, where Lemon played for Edmonton in 2012 and then for Calgary in 2013-14. He was part of the Grey Cup champion Stampeders in 2014 when he started all 18 games and had 13 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and an interception. Lemon (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) will be 27 on Aug. 25.
The idea when he was signed last March 24 was that Moats was going to provide value as the swing outside linebacker, a guy who could back up the starters on the right and the left, and play special teams. When Jarvis Jones dislocated his wrist, Moats became the starter, but over the course of the season he gradually lost the job and then playing time to the resurgent James Harrison. That doesn't mean Moats was a disappointment, because he was fourth on the team with four sacks, and he added seven quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. By outward appearances, Moats enjoyed his season with the Steelers, and the team was pleased with what it got from him. Hopefully, the arrangement can be extended.
In his first season as a full-time starter at one position, Worilds tied Cam Heyward for the team lead in sacks with 7.5, he finished second to Heyward in quarterback pressures with 18, and he added one interception and two passes defensed. Worilds missed around 15 defensive snaps over the course of the entire season, and he was praised during Coach Mike Tomlin's season-ending news conference for his development into a more complete player and a better teammate. "From a big picture standpoint I thought he evolved over the course of the season," said Tomlin. "He did a nice job for us regardless of what we asked him to do. He was in a leadership position. He came out of his shell a little bit and interacted with younger players and helped them in their growth and their development. There is value in terms of that. I thought it was a productive year." It will come down to negotiating a contract both sides deem fair.
One of two sixth-round picks in the 2014 draft, Zumwalt never really got going in his quest to win a roster spot. After being prohibited from attending OTAs because of that ridiculous rule governing colleges operating on quarters, Zumwalt sustained a groin injury that sidelined him for large chunks of training camp and three of the four preseason games. It was said he could play all four linebacker positions, and the Steelers look like they'll be needing depth at both outside spots.