First I think that James Farrior is everything Pittsburgh asked for and turned out to be the hero of the PIttsburgh Steelers and the unsung hero of the NFL. If he could have beaten out Ed Reed for DPOY in 2004 he could have gotten the recognition that he deserved league wide. But looking back, he was drafted by the NY Jets in 1997 as an outside linebacker as a top ten pick but was pretty much considered a "bust" after three years. Their mistake because it usually takes our linebackers two to three years before they even hit the field as full time starters. We picked him up and he moved to ILB, the rest is history. He was more known for his run stopping ability more than anything with the exception of leadership skills and smarts.
So my thoughts on this upcoming draft... Well Teo will likely get picked up before 17 and I don't think we should chase him. Yes he's got good size but he still doesn’t seem to plug holes like Farrior did. He plays like he is a 235 pound ILB, not a 255lb linebacker, which specializes in zone coverage and overall ball awareness, along with good leadership skills and intelligence. I feel like Timmons already fills that role for our team or at least two of those roles. It could be a nice compliment but I would like a more punishing inside linebacker that will stuff a block and reroute a running back and take away running lanes without having to touch the RB. With that comes the ability to make tackles in the backfield and shed blocks to make short gain tackles and not allow big yardage. I’m not saying that Manti is bad against the run so don’t mistake that. I think as a potential Buck linebacker he may not be physical enough with run blockers to completely fill that role but he definitely is smart enough to be trained on how to.
If we don’t pick up Manti then what might our other options be at filling the buck position?
Well let’s look in house first. Who do we have that is considered an outside linebacker on our team right now that might show some promise? Jason Worilds. He shows some flashes of solidarity at outside linebacker but not a whole lot. He is a solid backup and when asked to start at outside linebacker has had limited but some success. Not really getting beat by the block and has beaten the block on occasion to get to the quarterback. He had filled in for Lamar Woodley against the Cleveland browns and a few times he wasn’t always off the edge. He moved inside a couple times and when they tried to run inside on him whoever was trying to block him got knocked backwards on their ass or close to it. That is something to look at. The downside is Harrison may be on his way out if not this year then soon so there will be no moving him to inside linebacker due to the needs on the edge. Also his coverage skills may not be up to par for ILB but he his run stopping ability is definitely there. Only thing that could help with that move is if a stud OLB falls to 17…. Could happen no one has discussed it.
Stevenson Sylvester. We had high hopes for this individual last offseason, but they never seemed to materialized into the regular season. Enough said, I don’t think he is any kind of answer.
Sean Spence. Well he’s not a buck but he could fill the mack position very well and he could easily gain some muscle mass to help him with block shedding to become a starter but that still doesn’t fill our role. But it might inadvertently… Timmons has gained some more mass and was never really undersized. I think his tendency to rely on his athleticism causes him not to take on blocks head on but he does have the ability to and has become more mature as the years go on to the point where he may understand that he needs to get nasty. So to consider Sean Spence as the answer might very well be an indirect truth just not this coming year. If this situation were to materialize then it would take two years or at least mid-season next year. Larry Foote would need to comeback one more year to provide solid competition and mentorship for both Spence and Timmons. This option is my favorite for in house options. It still may not materialize the type of leader that Farrior was but then again Spence was a huge leader in college and he could surprise us.
Now to be fair if you look at the Steelers history, we have always been able to bring up linebackers and have them thrive in our system from all aspects of acquisitions. From getting high caliber first and second round draft picks, guys that have been cut and picked up on free agency, and guys that have been pulled up from the practice squad and had coming out Monday night games. I maintain that we should never underestimate any of our options and realize that our defensive scheme is geared to make our linebackers succeed.
In conclusion I want to mention that the last scenario I provided I think has the highest probability of becoming a reality. But in order to give further comment on the draft. We don’t need to take an ILB in the first round of the draft because we can likely afford to keep Foote due to the fact that he isn’t marketable for other teams and the cap hit won’t be very high. We will take a quality ILB in the top three rounds of the draft, I’m sure. We won’t get another Farrior and if we do we won’t know it for some time. But we may get a combination of his attributes implemented into two linebackers. No matter who we pick up, or decide to groom into the next leader of our front seven, that person will have the benefit of being coached by some of the greatest.