The Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization have always been known for their linebackers. If Penn State University is called "Linebacker U", the Steelers would be the NFL equivalent. Dating back to the Chuck Noll era, the Steelers have always boasted one of the best linebacking corps in the league.
In the 70s it were greats like Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, and Andy Russell. Who can forget the "Blitzburgh" linebackers of the early to mid-90s in Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland? When that group looked to be the best 3-4 linebacking group ever, the 2000s boasted some reputable units. Players like Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, James Farrior, Larry Foote, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and even Lawrence Timmons didn't disappoint.
Its now 2014 and we are on the verge of the next great group of Steelers linebackers. A great mix of veterans and youth, this unit very well could be next in the great line of linebacker lineage. With the starting linebackers most likely to be Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds on the outside, with a combination of Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Terrance Garvin next to him.
This year's unit might not be comparable to those all-time units, but that doesn't mean we aren't seeing the beginning of that journey taking place in front of our very eyes. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but the raw talent is there across the board.
Jarvis Jones is entering his second season after a very disappointing rookie campaign, but I ask the question "Which Steelers outside linebacker played that much as a rookie and performed like a veteran?" None come to mind. Jones is on schedule for a breakout season in 2014, and that will help free up Jason Worilds on the opposite side. Worilds is a wild card in some fans' minds, but to me last season wasn't a fluke, but just a taste of what is to come. Worilds has always possessed the ability to rush off the edge, and now that the job is his from the start, expect big things from Jason Worilds in 2014.
The inside linebacker position has almost the same amount of uncertainty, but there is always Lawrence Timmons. The quiet linebacker that lets his play do the talking is one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL. Who plays along side him will be the determining factor in whether this unit is complete, or left with a missing piece to the puzzle. Ryan Shazier will be that player, maybe not as a rookie, but long term it will be his job on the inside.
The Steelers have always been able to find those linebackers that can come in and get the job done. Worilds was one of those guys, Jones was drafted to be the same and now Shazier is the next in line. In my opinion, this unit has the speed, athleticism and raw talent to be one of the best units the Steelers have ever seen.