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The Short and the Long: Coaches divide the defense's most important position

The Steelers' Odd Couple, new linebackers coaches Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, have starkly different backgrounds but now have the same goal; developing highly drafted players on the Steelers.

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Coach 5-5

Jerry Olsavsky was the after-thought draft pick. He was the local guy from around the area, and a 10th round pick in 1989. An Ohio product, a Pitt Panther, Olsavsky is as Pittsburgh area as his name sounds.

He wore No. 55 throughout his nine-year career in Pittsburgh, making it something of his own quiet trademark. A smart, relentless player, he managed to hang in the NFL for 10 seasons, finishing his career with one-year stints with the Bengals and the Ravens, hanging 'em up in 1998.

Just a year later, the Steelers would draft their next No. 55 - one that had next to nothing in common with the old one.
Joey Porter came from Colorado State via Bakersfield, Ca. Athletic and muscular, Porter transitioned from a college defensive end to a Steelers outside linebacker, and he did it with more trash talk than the team had seen since Greg Lloyd played the position.

He would follow Olsavsky by taking his jersey, but he would leave him in his wake in terms of achievement. Porter, an All-2000s and All-Time Steelers team member, was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era. He did it with such a brash and pointed demeanor, he was once voted the league's scariest player in a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated.

Olsavsky never won such an award, but as Porter was racking up sacks in the NFL, he took on coaching stints at Carnegie Mellon, North Carolina and Youngstown State. He would eventually be named the Steelers' defensive assistant under head coach Mike Tomlin.

He had that role over the past five seasons, the last of which was done alongside Porter, who's found coaching aspirations of his own.

The two will split Keith Butler's old job in half this year. Olsavsky will coach the inside linebackers while Porter takes the outside linebackers.

A five for inside and a five for outside. They must join forces to help boost the Steelers' last two first round picks, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, neither of whom have lived up to expectations - with or without much opportunity to do so.

The Steelers Odd Couple will need to bring more out of a group that's both surging and sinking at the same time. With little to no depth outside, the inside linebackers are loaded with experienced and serviceable talent.

Maintaining the quality will be Olsavsky's main concern while Porter must find ways to get more out of the ones still on the roster.

Both must raise the bar even more, and that's clearly the expectation, considering the Steelers haven't split the linebackers coaching job in well over a decade.

Steelers best value per play

William Gay limped back to Pittsburgh in 2013.

He's been sprinting and scoring touchdowns ever since.

Things didn't work out upon signing a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. He lasted just one season for Steelers West, picked on repeatedly in a defense that had him covering deeper vertical routes more often than he would in the Steelers' Cover 2 look.

Perhaps that was part of the reason he returned. It showed immediately.

Gay was the Steelers' best cornerback in the 2013 season, and th three interceptions returned for touchdowns, he was essentially the only Steelers' defensive back who made splash plays in 2014.

He could be the team's most productive player for the dollar.

Along with his bounty of takeaways and touchdown dances, Gay was named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year for his contributions to awareness and assistance provided to victims of domestic abuse.

Things are going well for the Steelers' cornerback even if those around him are falling short of expectations. In discussing future needs and contributions, we'd be remiss to not discuss the possibility of keeping Gay beyond his contract, which expires after 2015.

If getting Cortez Allen off the field in 2014 helped the secondary, losing Gay in 2015 would have the same effect. Even if he'll enter the final year of his contract at 30 years of age, Pittsburgh's secondary looks too thin and too worrisome to allow an experienced veteran to test the market.

The Steelers have plenty of issues to deal with this offseason, let alone after 2015, but Gay's future with the team has to be something worth exploring now.

Playing GM

Let's create some money.

Cap money, that is. First, let's give a general and intentionally short-of-details contract to Ben Roethlisberger, who still has $6.9 million still needing to be counted after the Steelers played Restructure Roulette for several years.

A bonus around $35 million for five years, plus the lingering $6.9 million and a roster salary of $3 million in 2015. Give him a roster bonus due five days into the 2016 season, and Ben could get around $40 million in the next two years while knocking around $2 million off his 2014 cap charge.

Next, sign Cameron Heyward to an extension. The one Jurrell Casey signed with the Titans looks reasonable, maybe even too generous. If he signed a five-year deal with $10.6 million in a signing bonus, and played for a $2.4 million guaranteed salary in 2015, he'd drop his cap charge for 2015 by around $1.8 million.

Making Troy Polamalu a post-June 1 release would save another $6 million this year while still tacking on $2.25 million in dead money this year, and $4 million dead next year.

That would be two extensions and a release, and the cap space saved, before displacement, would only just cover up the dead money left by the terminated contract of LaMarr Woodley in 2014.

That's a staggering amount of activity needed to equal the towering mistake that was the contract of Woodley. He's likely to reach the free agency market again in 2015, but don't expect a reunion. There's no point in bringing him back when he's already so intertwined with the Steelers' lack of financial independence.

On second thought, let's not play general manager. Let's just hope Kevin Colbert is very careful about the players he signs to long-term deals.

Skinny Post

Your Take: I agree that we will go BPA in the draft...
and OLB is the biggest concern, but unlike others, I feel CB isn't as big a need as people make it out to be. Sure we will draft a CB in Rd 1 if Waynes or Peters makes it that far, but I feel that Blake and McCain played their way back onto the team, which gives us some insurance if Allen busts out.

- Corey Eckenroth

My Take: The Steelers are selecting with the 22nd pick in the first round. It's not exactly ideal range to take a player, especially at a premier position, and expect him to start. I agree, cornerback is not the most depleted position on this roster, as most who take an optimistic stance on the rebuilding project that is Cortez Allen do.

Gay is still signed for 2015, McCain can (and likely will) be retained on an affordable deal to play nickel, presuming a return of Allen to the starting lineup - and considering the size of his contract, he will get ample opportunity to hold down the position. He's not getting benched in favor of the 22nd overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. Mark that down now.

Outside linebacker is the longer lasting concern. If fans are forced to talk themselves into the development of Howard Jones and the possibility of Jordan Zumwalt entering Year 2 with playing time on his mind, there's an issue with depth.

This doesn't say any player they take at 22 is incapable of turning into a good player. It's more likely they're drafting to develop the player for the future. In that regard, addressing either position, as you said, with the best player available seems like a sound strategy. But if a stud at another position falls, don't be surprised if they take that player instead.