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Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

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Outside linebacker may not be the Steelers' most uncertain position on the team right now, but it's definitely the most interesting. Two young first-round picks? A guy who is literally old enough to be a grandfather who may still be one of the most feared players in the league? The player who led the Canadian Football League in sacks in 2014? Yes, please.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

That gigantic, gray thing over there in the corner? The one that tosses hundreds of pounds around like it's nothing at all?

No, it's James Harrison in his workout sweatsuit. But, yeah, it might as well be the elephant in the training room.

Really, the discussions until now have been appetizers. This is when we hit the meat, potatoes and a nice, authentic Guiness.

Lots to cover. Shall we?

First of all, it seems pointless to name starters. Because there's about a fifty-fifty chance that the two guys who begin the season there won't end up that way. There are two first-round draft picks, and fans and coaches alike want to see what they will bring to the table. We have had a taste of it with Jarvis Jones, but he's basically still just in his second year, after missing so much time last season to injury. What we saw in the three and a half games prior to him breaking his wrist -- back to the final game of 2013 -- at least made us thirsty for more. And, judging from the photos, his workouts in Arizona with Harrison and others are paying off. He looks more trim, and a little thicker.

Then there's Bud Dupree, this year's first-round draft pick. He could turn out to be the steal of the draft, having slid much further than most draftniks expected. Or, he could be the next Ziggy Hood. It's just too hard to judge a rookie before camp starts.

Most of us expect those two to be starters in 2016. But only the craziest among us expect Dupree to begin the season there, considering Arthur Moats had a fine season last year, despite playing largely as a reserve. His experience should earn him the nod, unless Dupree proves to be a freakishly fast learner.

Harrison may be fearsome, but he is 37 years old. Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter said his snaps will be limited, and they should be. It's time to know for certain what the team has in Jones, and cutting his snaps will not serve that purpose. Harrison will be a major contributor, though, and could push for the lead in sacks despite limited playing time. He had 5.5 in just 11 games in 2014.

Those four are locks for the roster. Behind them, there is good competition for what will probably be one, and maybe two, roster spots. Shayon Green is an interesting challenger. He has decent measurables for a 3-4 OLB -- a little short at 6'-2", but 260 pounds. He's fast enough, and put up 34 bench-press reps at his pro day in 2014. But two ACL tears in college left him undrafted, and he didn't sign anywhere last year. He's received awards for leadership, though, and could be a sleeper.

Left over from last season is Howard Jones, who is a freakish athlete who needed some time to season. If he has picked up the playbook and technique after a year on the practice squad, he has a legitimate shot and has time with the team as an advantage. Unfortunately, there were some holes in his game last pre-season, like his ability to set the edge versus the run.

Dupree wasn't the only outside linebacker the Steelers took in the 2015 draft. Anthony Chickillo, of Miami, was largely misused in their defense, but he's a tenacious guy who plays faster than he measured before the draft. At the very least, there are few reasons to dislike his game. It's a good start and could give him a leg up for the practice squad if he doesn't make the final 53.

Finally, there is the curious case of Shawn Lemon, who led the CFL in sacks in 2014. During the off-season, he had a lot of teams -- as in about a quarter of the NFL teams -- showing interest. He selected the Steelers, and could make the roster as a pass rush specialist who can also play inside in a pinch. He's fast, and has had time to develop some moves.

Outside linebacker will likely be the most scrutinized position in training camp. After declining sacks and a faltering run defense the last few years, the group has earned it. But this season could prove to be the turning point. Just ask the elephant in the room.

My Absurdly Early Prediction: Jarvis Jones, Dupree, Harrison and Moats are locked in and will all see plenty of time in 2015. My gut tells me Chickillo makes it too, and the team could surprise and keep a sixth. Lemon and Howard Jones could both play inside, too, and Mike Tomlin loves position flexibility.