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Young Steelers linebackers can make a name for themselves vs the Colts

The Steelers get their first taste of the Andrew Luck era as the Colts come to Heinz Field for the 2nd preseason game on Sunday night. Besides being a primetime game, those fans who aren’t part of the Steeler Nation will be tuning in to see if Andrew Luck can put together another nice game after a solid outing in his debut last week.

The Steelers aren’t going into this game specifically to take down Andrew Luck but they will get a nice test as he’ll likely play into the 2nd quarter if not longer. The coaches are looking for Steelers to take the next step in progression now that training camp is over. It’s time for the young guys that showed something to build upon that and for those that didn’t have such a good camp, to make a name for themselves. One group that I’ll be looking for specifically this week is the linebackers.

James Harrison is still on the PUP and probably won’t come off until closer to the regular season. As long as the team takes him off the list before the regular season starts he’ll be able to play when he’s ready rather than having to wait until week 6. Lamarr Woodley will only play as long as the starters on defense do and will likely be one of the first ones pulled anyway. Keith Butler knows how important he is to the defense this year especially with Harrison still out so they won’t risk too many reps with him.

Lawrence Timmons will man his usual post on the inside along with Larry Foote to start the game but both of them will also be pulled sometime after the first quarter most likely depending on things shake out during the course of the game. As Tomlin mentioned on Friday when training camp closed,“I’d like for them to play about twice as long as they did last time out,” said Tomlin. “That’s always a general reference but I always reserve the right to change it based on circumstance, performance, time of possession and things of that nature.”

“The big thing is that I want to see a significant step in quality of play and an understanding of situational football and excelling in it,” said Tomlin. “That’s what the preseason is about, particularly the difference between game one and game two.”

For the linebackers, this is another opportunity for them to make a name for themselves because the 3rd preseason game  will have limited opportunities as the starters play the entire first half and sometimes into the 2nd. Chris Carter, Andre Robinson, Sean Spence, Brandon Johnson, and Stevenson Sylvester will be high on the radar of Dick Lebeau, Keith Butler, and Mike Tomlin.

Sean Spence is coming back from a minor ankle injury but he returned to practice on Friday so assuming he’s healthy enough to go, look for the rookie and Sylvester to see the bulk of the work on the inside. Sly has been working on the outside as well and could get some reps there. Coaches love versatile players and the more you can do the more valuable you are to them. Spence is a speed demon and flies to the ball quickly, he just needs experience but his football instincts are very keen and he’s a passionate student of the game.

Brandon Johnson is no rookie (spent the last 4 seasons with the Bengals) but since he’s a reserve player he’ll get on the field significantly as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come in after the starters in the first half. He’s had a great camp and understands his role on the team. He would have to totally bomb out in the rest of the preseason to not make this squad I would imagine. With James Farrior gone now and Larry Foote starting, having that NFL experience is invaluable to the defense. Good speed, solid tackler and that experience is something you need to be on the inside especially.

Chris Carter seems to be gaining ground this year and while Keith Bulter would love nothing more than to have James Harrison back against the Broncos, he knows it could be Carter’s name that called on opening day. The 2nd year man out of Fresno State is getting more than his share of reps on the outside and from what we’ve heard it definitely paying off. Butler said earlier in the week, via Ed Bouchette, that while he’s encouraged by the progress of Carter he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to go a full game in Denver yet. It’s up to the player now to put the coaches’ mind at ease, somewhat at least, because there isn’t much left behind Carter at this point.

Adrian Robinson, the rookie out of Temple and showed some good pursuit and a nice motor against the Eagles but he’s still very raw and has much to learn. He’s 6’1 250 lbs so he’s not a small guy but learning how to pass rush in a 34 defense is no walk in the park. I noticed him making some nice moves in coverage in the opener and also a nice inside move in pass rush but he can also get swallowed up too and shedding blocks will go a long way to his potential roster spot. Given the lack of depth on the outside he could sneak onto the roster, but some of that will depend on when Jason Worilds returns.

Speaking of Worilds…queue the crickets here…he’s still on the PUP list and the team has yet to say much of anything on his status other than he continues to be week to week. After missing the entire offseason, all of training camp, and likely the remainder of the preseason, if he’s going to make the final roster it will be due to his limited experience and flashes from late in 2011.

Keep your eye on this group as you watch the second preseason game on Sunday night. After you say your 7 “hail bens” and cross your fingers for no injuries, we should hopefully get a nice showing from this group of players. You know the coaches are anxious for that.

 

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