While reading some of the commentary provided by you all here on Behind the Steel Curtain recently, I had several fresh thoughts about the linebacker situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's not a whole lot to assess personnel wise at the outside linebacker position. 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and third year sensation LaMarr Woodley have the two outside 'backer positions locked down for at least the next two or three years.
It's the inside linebacker position in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense that I've been contemplating since the Steelers brought back Larry Foote to Pittsburgh after his one year stay over in Detroit.
The following is an excerpt from a very informative and well organized article about the Green Bay Packers 3-4 defense under recently hired defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In case you had forgotten, Capers was the architect of the Steelers defenses from 1992 until 1994 before being lured away by the Carolina Panthers to be the head coach for their inaugural season in 1995. Dick LeBeau was the defensive backs coach during Capers three years in Pittsburgh, so suffice it to say, much of what this article covers regarding Capers' 3-4 scheme in Green Bay is transferable to what the Steelers do defensively under Coach LeBeau.
The entire article is worth reading, but the excerpt I was compelled to share here is about the two inside linebacker positions in the 3-4 (bold emphasis mine):
There are two distinctly different ILB positions, the SILB and WILB, strong and weak. In Dom's system the SILB is named the buck, the WILB is named the mack. Unlike the OLB's, the ILB's do change sides based on which side the TE is on, with good reason. Usually if there is an uncovered gap or extra blocker, it is on the strong side. When looking at number counts, especially when a FB is involved, there are almost always as many blockers on the strong side as there are defenders. The buck and mack have very different skill sets as it relates to the run.
The buck is a banger. Remember one of the initial premises I made, a back with no blockers isn't going very far. The buck eliminates the blockers. If there is a G coming through, mix it up with the G and try to keep him in the gap. If the FB is coming through, stop him in his tracks. The last thing you want the buck doing is shedding the blocks, unless the RB is past or nearly past him. If he sheds the blocks early and fails to tackle the back, he made matters worse, now these blockers are in the secondary, the plus one has a blocker coming his way. Not good. The buck is supposed to engage blockers, not run around them.
If the buck has to take care of an offensive lineman, the best you can hope for is that he holds him up in the gap and doesn't get blown backward or thrown to the ground. Likewise he should hit the FB back and maintain control of the gap. The buck is essentially a small mobile defensive lineman, as it relates to the run, he almost always is part of the gap control scheme and has a gap assigned to him. He did his job if the back has to look elsewhere for an opening and if there are no blockers out in front of him.
The mack is the playmaker. He often has no gap assigned to him. He is to seek and destroy the guy with the ball. If the rest of the front did their jobs, he should be free of blockers. If not, he should shed any block immediately or go around them in pursuit of the ball. The mack is the star of the defense. He should always be around the ball. If he is blocked, the secondary has to make the play.
Okay, now, some of my thoughts about the Steelers inside linebacker situation. First though, some of the pertinent questions.
- Why hasn't Lawrence Timmons developed into the monster that we all thought he would be by now heading into his fourth year?
- How much does James Farrior have left in the tank at 34 years of age?
- How will defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau utilize the trio of Farrior, Larry Foote and Timmons? (and really, I should say the quartet and add Keyaron Fox, as he's proven plenty capable of playing at a starting level when given the opportunity).