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Terrence Garvin isn't a "small linebacker", he's a "big safety"

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Terence Garvin joined the Steelers last season as a tryout for rookie camp. During the 2013 season he contributed on special teams and at linebacker on defense. Linebackers coach Keith Butler believes he has a promising future in the NFL.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

"We got inside linebackers out the butt."

Per Jim Wexell of the Steel City Insider, that's the rather colourful phrase Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler used to describe the Steelers sudden wealth of bodies at the position.

This wasn't always the case though, and it's quite a sharp contrast from the 2013 season.  After an injury in week 1 put Larry Foote out for the entire season, the Steelers turned to journeyman Kion Wilson and then 6th round rookie Vince Williams.

There was precious little depth to speak of, and what they had was neither particularly talented or experienced.

Heading into training camp the Steelers have a plethora of inside linebackers who will compete for some serious playing time in 2014. Lawrence Timmons, the most experienced linebacker on the roster, has one ILB spot virtually locked down.

However the second starting ILB spot on the defense alongside Timmons is still up for grabs.

The Steelers 2014 first round pick Ryan Shazier impressed greatly during minicamp, and his freakish natural athleticism makes him a strong favourite to see a large portion of snaps this season.

Then there is Vince Williams, who when pressed into duty performed admirably in 2013. As a 6th round rookie no one envisioned the then 23 year old seeing such significant time on defense, and predictably some growing pains were evident whilst he was on the field. Whilst he had his limitations, most notably in pass coverage, Williams has invaluable experience playing NFL football, something that could set him apart from his peers.

Next up is potentially the best feel good story of the decade, 2012 third round pick Sean Spence. A gruesome pre-season knee injury suffered in his rookie year put him on the sidelines for two years. However that major setback is now in the rear view mirror and after a full and impressive minicamp Spence is primed to compete for a starting role in training camp. He certainly has the mental toughness and fortitude required.

Jordan Zumwalt and Arthur Moats, a 2014 6th round draft pick and recent free agent acquisition respectively, are both position flexible, having practiced at both outside and inside linebacker. Zumwalt, having already missed time with the team due to the NFL's peculiar rules about graduating, does not seem a serious contender to win the ILB job in training camp. Moats is a wildcard, after four years under three different defensive coordinators in Buffalo it's safe to say he hasn't yet reached his full potential.

Finally, there is the guy they're calling "big safety", second year linebacker Terence Garvin. Perhaps most famous for his jaw breaking block on Bengals punter Kevin Huber, Garvin actually went undrafted in 2013, but impressed as a tryout player in the Steelers rookie camp. He continued to impress in training camp, showed an aptitude for special teams and made the 53-man roster.

As well as contributing on special teams, Garvin replaced Williams at starting ILB last season against the Green Bay Packers.

At 6-3, 221-pounds Garvin is an impressive athlete who, according to Coach Butler, has a bright future ahead of him.

"I think you've got to watch the guy we call 'Big Safety,' Terence Garvin," Butler said. "Terence Garvin one day will be a starter in this league. That's my opinion."

"We're so loaded inside we've got to find a place for him, so we're playing him outside and inside, playing him both sides to see if he can learn both. You always have to have a swing guy. Stevenson Sylvester was always the swing guy. Now it's 'Big Safety,' or maybe Zumwalt. We'll see."

Garvin has been working hard to learn both outside and inside linebacker in an attempt boost his chances of both making the team and having a significant contribution, and admits it's nice to get a compliment for his efforts.

"It's tough at first," Garvin said. "But I appreciate it because I feel I learn different things about it. I feel you're forced to learn everything, because you have to learn outside but you have to learn the inside, so you've got to know what different people are doing. That helps you out as a whole."

"I feel in this world you've just got to work," said Garvin. "You can't really worry about different things like that. But that is a good little compliment. I appreciate that. I work hard every day trying to get to that point."

Garvin's work effort is admirable, and he'll need to continue to work hard to earn his spot on the 53-man roster for 2014.

As for his nickname, he's hoping "big safety" sticks, as opposed to Mike Tomlin's preferred moniker.

"Yeah, it's better than 'Little linebacker,'" he said. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin will call me that every now and then. He'll call me 'the Little linebacker.' I also get 'Big Safety.' I'd rather be called 'big safety' than 'Little linebacker' any day."