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Old 04-24-2012, 07:46 PM   #51
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Default Re: Is our linebacking core right now a weakness?

Originally Posted by Hawaii 5-0 View Post
Drafting a LB is imperative for Steelers

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012
By Jim Wexell For HeraldStandard.com

The lifeblood of the Pittsburgh Steelers failed them last year.

Their group of linebackers, the heart of their 3-4 defense, had one of its worst statistical seasons in decades.

Injuries played a part. So did age. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley saw double-digit sack streaks stopped when they — hurting and hurt, respectively — finished with 9 sacks apiece.

James Farrior had only 2 sacks and was released. Lawrence Timmons was moved outside and back inside and had only 2 sacks. Backups Jason Worilds and Larry Foote had 3 and 1½ sacks.

The defense accounted for only 35 sacks, lowest since the 2003 defense had 35 and the 1990 defense had 34.

Worse was the scant number of “splash plays,” as coach Mike Tomlin likes to call them.

To quantify “splash plays,” add interceptions and forced fumbles, and by that measurement last year’s Steelers linebackers made only 6 “splash plays.”

That measure was the worst in the 13 seasons Dick LeBeau has spent on the Steelers’ defensive staff.

In defenses LeBeau has coached here (three seasons secondary; 10 seasons coordinator), the top six linebackers have never had less than 12 interceptions and forced fumbles.

The previous 3-4 defenses pale when comparing sacks and/or “splash plays” to the LeBeau-era 3-4s, but only one other time has a group of 3-4 Steelers linebackers made only six “splash plays” — and that was in the strike-shortened 1987 season (Cole, Hinkle, Little, Merriweather).

The Steelers began playing the 3-4 defense in 1982.

Perhaps this all helps us better understand why the Steelers are looking so intently at linebackers this draft season.

Whether they’re looking to replace Farrior, or moving Worilds inside, or searching for the 34-year-old Harrison’s eventual replacement, or whether they’re merely reacting to statistical evidence, the Steelers are making no secret about their interest.

These are the main outside linebacker candidates:

Nick Perry (6-2.6, 271, 4.58) — No one his size at the combine was as fast, but a 4.66 20-yard shuttle does not indicate a smooth transition from DE to OLB. The two best Pac-12 OTs said at the combine that Perry is the real deal.

Whitney Mercilus (6-3.5, 254, 4.68) — Should be nicknamed “Ming” by now. Mercilus was outstanding against Penn State and Ohio State. Similar in size and style to Joey Porter, but the redshirt junior had only one good year.

Courtney Upshaw (6-1.5, 272, 4.79) — Alabama cross between Harrison and Woodley has even more trouble than Woodley cutting weight.

Shea McClellin (6-3.3, 260, 4.66) — Those who subscribe to KEI theory (strength + jump numbers = explosiveness) won’t like this Boise Stater, but the DE can get downfield to cover. Also, wouldn’t shut up about his hero Mike Vrabel at the combine.

Andre Branch (6-4.2, 259, 4.69) — Steelers had him in for a visit, but peg this Clemson DE as a too-late first-rounder/too-early second-rounder.

Bruce Irvin (6-3, 245, 4.44) — Former WVU 3-3 backup DE had the best agility times of every front-seven player at the combine (and all but one safety in each category). The downside is he’s been in jail and was arrested again recently for a minor disturbance. Steelers scouts can dream, though.

Olivier Vernon (6-2.1, 261, 4.77) — True junior DE sat out six games for “impermissible benefits” last season at Miami. Right age and position for the Steelers.

Cam Johnson (6-3.4, 268, 4.81) — Steelers also had this Virginia pass-rusher in for a visit. Reminiscent on the field of Clark Haggans, without the heart.

And here are the inside linebackers:

Luke Kuechly (6-3.2, 242, 4.61) — Don’t know whether he’s the next Jack Lambert or the next Jack Ham. Best instincts I’ve seen from a college linebacker in years.

Donta Hightower (6-2.2, 265, 4.64) — Big, fast, intimidating, intelligent leader would fit right into Farrior’s “buck,” or playcalling, position.

Lavonte David (6-0.5, 233, 4.59) — Nebraska captain should last into early second round, or could be Tomlin curveball in first.

Mychal Kendricks (5-11.1, 239, 4.46) — Cal MLB put up top times and jumps at the combine, but will likely be overdrafted. Reportedly struggled at the combine whiteboard.

James-Michael Johnson (6-1.1, 241, 4.66) — If Hightower’s not there in the first, wait for this MLB from Nevada ...

Demario Davis (6-2, 235, 4.56) - ... or this MLB from Arkansas State in the middle rounds. Followers of aforementioned KEI theory call Davis the second most explosive athlete behind Nick Perry. Stood up Cordy Glenn twice at the Senior Bowl to tackle RBs.

Ronnell Lewis (6-1.6, 253, 4.67) — Like Irvin, Lewis was a backup 3-3 DE for a coach who didn’t know how to use him. A true junior, Lewis is a fearsome special-teams killer. But where to play him?

Nigel Bradham (6-1.7, 241, 4.59) — Was shown around Florida State campus during his recruiting visit by Timmons. Would have to play “mack” and move Timmons to the more cerebral “buck,” but for whatever reason the Steelers are teaching Timmons to play OLB instead of the captain’s position.

Travis Lewis (6-1.3, 246, 4.77) — Overhyped since his freshman year at Oklahoma, this Larry Foote clone could be underrated by now.

Danny Trevathan (6-0.2, 237) — No one else likes this small, slow and ultra-productive Kentucky overachiever. But would not surprise me if he becomes a solid starter in the league.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Value Board

First Round — Luke Kuechly, Boston College; Dont’a Hightower, Alabama; Nick Perry, USC.

Second Round — Lavonte David, Nebraska.

Third Round — James-Michael Johnson, Nevada; Olivier Vernon, Miami.

Fourth Round — Demario Davis, Arkansas State; Nigel Bradham, Florida State; Bobby Wagner, Utah State.

Fifth Round — Miles Burris, San Diego State; Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest; Travis Lewis, Oklahoma.

Seventh Round — Danny Trevathan, Kentucky; Sammy Brown, Houston; Adrian Robinson, Temple; Jerrell Harris, Alabama.

I guess I am not the troll you guys think I am
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Old 04-26-2012, 09:07 AM   #52
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Default Re: Is our linebacking core right now a weakness?

[QUOTE=Dodens Grav;1007334]I said that it's conceivable, not that it's likely. I'm confident that he'll start at least two more seasons. His back issues are more or less behind him. He played much better when he returned from his head injury than in the first four games. The rest obviously helped his back issue, and he should be the healthiest he's been in a few seasons this year.

Two years ago was one of Farrior's best seasons. Perhaps you should look up his statistics. Foote is a capable starter, but obviously not a long-term answer.[/QUOTE

Farrior lost a step a couple of years ago and it was evident. His stats look pretty much the same his entire career. Being a 3-4 inside backer, the system is made for the ILB to get all the tackles and the OLB to get all the sacks. Stats certainly don't say it was one of his best seasons either. All I know, is since 2009 he has been avg. at best and an absolute liability in pass coverage. He got worked trying to cover any back or TE all year and it cost us big time. Anybody who watched the games knows that.

Foote- He's nothing more than a band aid. Our system is set up to have our linebackers wreak havoc and I'm not confident they can do that with the current troops. Hope I'm wrong, but we need a difference maker in the middle. Timmons has the athletic ability, but has under performed to this point. He was a top 15 pick and hasn't lived up to that potential yet. Maybe this year.
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Old 04-26-2012, 11:05 AM   #53
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Default Re: Is our linebacking core right now a weakness?

Originally Posted by Steelers5895 View Post
I guess I am not the troll you guys think I am
you have not guessed wisely, grasshoppa.

what wexell describes is an aberation, a fluke, something that strangely happens to a team once every 30 years. their lack of production in sacks and "splash" plays was a statistical anomoly than any other team would have difficulty duplicating if they tried.

it is not indicative of our entire LB corps being a weakness, and certainly no reason for knee jerk reaction or a sense of panic to set in.

FWIW jim wexell advocates selecting Lavonte David, Nebraska captain, in the 2nd round.

we are adding 10 picks to the team. it doesnt mean that the 10 positions those players play are all areas of weakness. we have to fill out a roster.
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