The Steelers are looking at a potential dilemma to work through when the season starts next month. Who is going to play on the outside opposite Lamarr Woodley? Normally this one is a no brainer, it’s James Harrison, but right now it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go. To that, if he is ready, can he play the entire game and be effective in the first couple weeks of the season? To compound the problem, figuring out who to play outside might also affect the inside. Who’s on first, what???
Linebackers Coach Keith Butler has been hard at work trying to figure out not only who’s going to be available but also who is the best option out there. Lineacker by committee? Let’s hope not but right now it’s anybody’s guess.
While we don’t know what the final outcome will be, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is still an option to replace Harrison on the outside (contrary to some reports stating otherwise). Although that’s not Butler’s first choice, he is keeping it as a possibility. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently spoke with the Keith Butler about the situation he’s dealing with.
“I prefer not to put Lawrence back outside,” Butler said. “But that’s always a possibility. What we want to do is put our best people on the field regardless who they are. It’s my job to try to make sure they’re prepared for any contingency we might have.”
“I don’t know if you can replace James Harrison,” Butler said. “I don’t know if you can do that. Right now, we’re short until either Jason or James gets back. Chris has done a great job. He’s improved quite a bit. I think he’ll be ready to play. I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play a full game, so that’s a concern.”
“We might just sub a little bit more,” said Butler, a former linebacker who played a decade for the Seattle Seahawks. “That first game is going to be tough, it’s going to be in Denver, it’s going to be at Mile High. People say there’s nothing to the thin air out there but that’s [nonsense]; I played there for 10 years so I know what it is.
The other options include 3rd year man Stevenson Sylvester who’s also taking some snaps on the outside along with 2nd year player Chris Carter and veteran Brandon Johnson who came over from Cincinatti.
Sylvester is normally on the inside but given the situation last year and now with things transpiring as they are for this season, the Steelers need to keep every available player they have ready to go on both the inside and outside positions.
Johnson is having a very good camp and had a nice showing in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. If he ends up playing this season the defense won’t lose much because Johnson understands the game and has experience to rely on. He may not be a Lawrence Timmons or James Harrison but most people aren’t.
Chris Carter is also have himself a pretty nice camp and might be the way that Butler decides to go if Harrison isn’t ready. As he mentioned the jury is still out on if he’ll be able to last an entire game but he’s made big strides from 2011 to 2012 and if he has a good rest of the preseason the coaches could feel more comfortable with inserting him into the lineup.
Right now my money would be on Carter for the simple reason that keeping Timmons on the inside is a priority because doing so only disrupts one outside backer position. If you move LT outside then you bring in another player on the inside and suddenly you’re in musical chairs mode again.
I have no faith that Jason Worilds is going to come back any time soon and if he does, he’s got a lot of rust to shake off from last year until now. Still though if he comes off the PUP within the next week or two, Dick Lebeau might decide to go with the veteran over an upstart young player simply because of the experience factor. Worilds came on stronger late in the year but injuries again held back his progression early and now again in 2012.
Best case scenario is Harrison, Woodley, Timmons, and Foote starting on day one. I’m praying to the football gods that we see that. If we don’t though, then get ready to keep a score card of who’s in on what series because it could get interesting.