Honoring Steelers Linebacker David Little – An Underapperciated Part of Pittsburgh’s Linebacker Legacy

When David Little began his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1981, he arrived on the scene one year after his older brother, Larry Little, a future Hall of Fame guard who played 14 years for both the Chargers and Dolphins, ended his.

  • Talk about a lot to live up to for the younger Little, a middle linebacker and Pittsburgh’s seventh round pick out of Florida.

Speaking of future Hall of Famers, the Steelers still employed nine of them during Little’s rookie season. One of those future enshrines was Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh’s fierce, cranky and toothless middle linebacker. In only his eighth year in the NFL and still in his late-20s, the perennial Pro Bowler figured to rule the turf of old Three Rivers Stadium for many more years to come.

  • Didn’t seem like there’d be much of a future as a starter for Little, especially considering his rather middle-of-the-road draft-status.

Even after the Steelers switched to a 3-4 alignment in 1982 (three down linemen, two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers), it didn’t create a starting spot for Little. Instead, veteran Loren Toews started every game at left inside linebacker in ’82 and again in 1983, while the consistent and reliable Lambert manned the right inside spot.

Things forever changed for Little in 1984, after the legendary Lambert suffered a turf toe injury and only started three games.


David Little helps Mel Blount bring down Marcus Allen

In Lambert’s place and along side Super Bowl veteran Robin Cole, Little started 13 games in ’84 and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 86, according to a UPI story published about Little in January of ’85, just prior to Pittsburgh’s match-up against the Dolphins for the right to go to Super Bowl XXIX.

“When you play Lambert’s position, your job is to make big plays,” Little told sports writer Dave Raffo, some 31 years ago.

In-fact, the Steelers defense made many big plays with Little starting in-place of Lambert, finishing fifth in both total yards and takeaways in ’84, as Pittsburgh advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game.

As the story pointed out, Lambert was activated prior to the game against the Dolphins, but head coach Chuck Noll perhaps left no doubt as to who would start: “He’s a special player,” Noll said of Lambert. “But David Little has done an outstanding job in his place.”

Little started the conference title game in Miami, which turned out to be a 45-28 loss, and would continue to start for the remainder of his career, after Jack Lambert retired following the ’84 campaign.

  • Over the next eight seasons, Little was a model of consistency, starting an additional 112 games.

The NFL really didn’t keep track of tackles during Little’s playing days, but according to an article from The Pittsburgh Press published in 1990, Little, who made his first Pro Bowl that season, was the same tackling machine as Lambert, as he led the team in that category five of the previous six seasons–including four in a row up to that point.

  • It may have taken awhile for Little to earn his first Pro Bowl honor, but they say the ultimate respect a player receives is from his teammates.

Future Hall of Famer, and Little’s 1988 co-Steelers MVP, Rod Woodson, positively beamed when asked about Little finally making the Pro Bowl:

He’s been playing here for 10 years and playing well for 10 years,” He’s finally getting recognized, and everybody’s  really happy for David. I mean really, really happy.

Little played two more years and lasted through Bill Cowher‘s first season as head coach. However, despite the free agent departure of Hardy Nickerson, Cowher released Little during training camp in 1993 in-large part because of the development of second-year players Jerry Olsavsky and  Levon Kirkland.

Levon Kirkland, who much like Little, would go on to be a mainstay at the inside linebacker spot for many years. Because of his size (275 pounds) and almost unreal athleticism, Kirkland became a star at inside linebacker and made two Pro Bowls during his time with the Steelers.

  • As for Little, he never played again and retired into relative obscurity after 12 NFL seasons.

Sadly, on March 17, 2005, Little died in a weightlifting accident at his home in Florida. He was 46.

David Little may not have been as famous as his older brother or the Hall of Fame legend he replaced at inside linebacker for the Steelers. In-fact, he probably didn’t even quite enjoy the notoriety of his successor Levon Kirkland.

But David Little upheld the standard of excellence that is the Steelers linebacker legacy and had the respect of his teammates and a career to be proud of.

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Steelers Sign Travis Feeney, Rookie Inherits Challenge, Steelers 6th Round Linebacker Pedigree

The Pittsburgh Steelers have come to terms with rookie linebacker Travis Feeney, their 6th round pick out of Washington.

Rookie signings are essentially pro-forma exercises following the institution of the rookie wage scale as part of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nonetheless, it is good to get players under contract quickly.

The Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and outside linebackers coach Joey Porter think highly of Travis Feeney, whom they did not still expect to be on the board in the 6th round. During his time in Washington, Feeney made 247 tackles and sacked the quarterback 15 and a half times and during his seinor season he registered 8 sacks and made 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

  • That’s an impressive college record, but Feeney’s biggest challenge begins now.

Travis Feeney must carve a roster spot out of a depth chart headed by James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo. That’s one defensive player of the year, two first round draft picks, and a veteran whose contract runs through 2017. Hope to it rook!

Steelers 6th Round Linebackers Set Precedent for Success

As daunting as Feeney’s task might seem, linebackers drafted in the 6th round have a strong pedigree with the Steelers.

Vince Williams was a 6th round pick and he ended up starting as a rookie (although he struggled.) Eric Ravotti and Bryan Hinkle were also 6th round draft picks. The most accomplished Steelers linebacker drafted in the 6th round was Steelers legend Greg Lloyd.

Greg Lloyd’s situation was somewhat similar to Travis Feeney’s, in that he joined the Steelers and found himself looking at a depth chart headed by Brian Hinkle and Mike Merriweather who then owned the Steelers single-season sack record. Super Bowl veteran Robin Cole was also on the roster, although Chuck Noll and Tony Dungy had moved him to inside linebacker by that point in his career.

Lloyd’s rookie season was lost to a torn ACL, but when he returned for the second half of 1988, Greg Lloyd played well enough to make Merriweather, then in a season-long hold- out, expendable.

  • Can Travis Feeney retrace Greg Lloyd’s footsteps?

That’s up to him, but he can rest assured that Keith Butler and the rest of the Steelers coaches will give him a fair shot.

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Greg Lloyd Calls Out Jarvis Jones – Is Criticism Justified?

The Pittsburgh Steelers yield nothing to the rest of the NFL in terms of linebacking legacy. From Hall of Famers like Jack Ham and Jack Lambert to Hell Raisers like Joey Porter, to tacticians like James Farrior, the Pittsburgh Steelers have defined the NFL’s gold standard for linebacking excellence.

  • Number 95 occupies a special place in the hearts of Steelers Nation.

No, there’s no Hall of Fame bust or Super Bowl trophy associated with that numeral, but it the number nonetheless holds an almost mythical quality.

So when the Number 95 criticizes today’s Number 95 people pay attention.

Bleacher Report Radio caught up with Steelers legend Greg Lloyd and when asked about his successor at right outside linebacker, Lloyd minced no words:

From what I’ve seen of Jarvis Jones, and don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but from what I’ve seen him do, I could take a guy from the golf course I play at and have him do the same thing – just run up the field.

A brutally harsh criticism from a man who relished his nickname “Just plain nasty.” While his words may be a little too raw, they sting so much because they’re hitting fairly close to the mark.

With injuries ruining LaMarr Woodley’s career, Jason Worilds playing inconsistently, and James Harrison bound for Cincinnati, the Steelers drafted Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Jones boldly requested Number 95 and got it. In the preseason he made splash plays a plenty, and delivered stunning behind the goal line hit of Chris Johnson in 2013 opening day the debacle vs. Tennessee.

But after that Jones disappeared, and ultimately lost his starting job. He started 2014 strong, registering a sack in the season opener vs. Cleveland and then another vs. Carolina. But he also injured his wrist and missed the next 11 weeks.

  • By the time Jones returned, James Harrison was back to form, and Jones did nothing to show he deserved more playing time.

Like Shamarko Thomas, Jones counterpart from the 2013 NFL Draft, Jones bears no responsibility for the injuries he’s suffered. But like Thomas, Jones is approaching his third year, which is the year that reality dictates that patience must run thin and excuse making must end.

It’s doubtful Greg Lloyd in golfs with friends who’re capable of outplaying Jarvis Jones. Nonetheless, the burden of proof remains on Jones to show that he can live up to the Steelers linebacker legacy. He’s got a long way to go, and the clock is ticking.

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James Harrison Retires from Football, Steelers Nation Wishes Him Well

Former Pittsburgh Steelers All Pro Linebacker James Harrison has decided to call it a career and begin his life’s work.

No one serves as a better poster boy for Colbert’s ability to find diamonds in the discarded and unwanted than James Harrison, who first joined the Steelers in 2002 and survived numerous cuts. He only made the regular season roster in 2004, but made an impact immediately with his body slam of a drunken Cleveland Browns fan.

Still, Harrison had to work behind Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, and did not get his chance to start until Bill Cowher made way for Mike Tomlin.

That was only the beginning for Harrison, who followed up that 2007 season by winning Defensive Player of the year in 2008, and authored what is perhaps the most remarkable play in Super Bowl history during the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

james harrison super bowl touchdown pick six steelers cardinals
James Harrison, Super Bowl XLIII

Harrison struggled with a series of injuries following 2008, but he remained one of the league’s dominant outside linebackers during the rest of his time in Pittsburgh. Following the 2012 season, Harrison rebuffed the Steelers attempt to renegotiate his contract and the Steelers cut him, and played one final year in Cincinnati for Marv Lewis.

As a free agent this spring, Harrison openly spoke about wanting to return to Pittsburgh for a final year, and Kevin Colbert appeared to open that door. But nothing materialized as the Steelers instead opted to make a commitment to youth on defense.

  • Harrison did flirt with the idea of playing for Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, but he instead chose retirement citing a desire to be close to his family.

As Steel Curtain Rising has mentioned before, Harrison didn’t simply live up to the Steelers Linebacker Legacy, he added his own contribution to it. And for that, Steelers Nation will forever be in his debt.

Thank you James. Good luck and God Speed as you begin your Life’s Work.

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James Harrison’s Contribution to the Steelers Linebacker Legacy

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a franchise that yields nothing to any other NFL franchise when it comes to linebacking.

In 1970’s, Andy Russell and Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert set the standard. Since then, notable Steelers linebackers have fallen into two categories.

  • Those who have upheld the standard, and those who added their own legacy to it.

The fact that he will not finish his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in no way diminishes James Harrison’s contribution to Steelers proud Linebacker Legacy.

The Steelers Linebacker Legacy

Steelers Nation does not accept linebackers who merely play “above the line.” Steelers Nation demands excellence for its linebackers.

The Steelers Media Guide used to run a page on the teams “Linebacker Legacy.” From 1969 to 1987 the Steelers sent at least one linebacker to the Pro Bowl. The steak ended with Mike Merriweather in ’87, but began anew in 1991 with Greg Lloyd, ended in 1998 with Levon Kirkland, only to begin again in 2001 with Jason Gildon continuing with James Harrison into 2010.

With such a time-honored tradition at linebacker, one may ask, what must a linebacker do to add to the tradition instead of simply living up to it?

To contribute to Steelers Linebacker Legacy, a linebacker must:

  • Have a nasty streak
  • Be relentless
  • Strike fear into the hearts of quarterbacks
  • Step up when times get tough
  • Secure turnovers
  • Inspire his teammates
  • Make game-changing plays

James Harrison did all of these things, and Steel Curtain Rising now takes a look at how he did them and you can read and/or see them for yourself by clicking on the links below or simply scrolling down.

James Harrison Redefines “Nasty”
The Relentlessness of James Harrison
Striking Fear into Opposing Quarterbacks
Stepping It Up When Times Get Tough
James Harrison – Ball Hawk
Silverback Leading by Example
Super Bowl XLIII James Harrison, Game Changer

James Harrison Redefines “Nasty”

His predecessor Greg Lloyd wore t-shirts exclaiming “I wasn’t hired for my disposition.”

Joey Porter, his immediate predecessor, stirred up the pot once getting throw out of a game for pre game brawling and would follow opponents to the team bus. (Incidentally, Porter’s ejection at Cleveland led to Harrison’s first start we he registered 6 tackles and a sack.)

But Harrison’s signature “Nasty” came on Christmas Eve in 2005 and needs no words to describe it:

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The Relentlessness of James Harrison

Roger Goodell and Ray Anderson disciplined James Harrison as if Harrison thought he played by his own set of rules. In 2010 they had the decency to go public with their feud.

But prior Harrison had been fighting a Cold War with the officials, whereby the referees willfully looked the other way as opposing offensive lineman held Harrison, wrestled with Harrison and at times even horse collared him to the ground with nary a flag being thrown.

Harrison posted double digit sack seasons in 2009, 2010 and would have done so in 2011 had it not been for injury and suspension.

Silverback accomplished that feat despite essentially playing with one arm in late 2009, two herniated disks in 2010 and recovery from back surgery and then an orbital bone fracture in 2011.

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Striking Fear into Opposing Quarterbacks

Steve McNair was a Steelers slayer during his time in Tennessee and with Baltimore. But he had the misfortune to start the Steelers 75th Anniversary game which James Harrison chose as his moment to explode onto the national scene.

On that night, Harrison:

  • Sacked McNair 3 times and got a piece of another McNair pass
  • Intercepted a McNair pass and returned it for 20 yards
  • Defensed 1 pass
  • Forced 2 forced fumbles and recovered another fumble
  • Finished the game with 9 total tackles

McNair had been .500 in his four stars prior to that game. He lost both that night and in the two starts that followed, his final NFL action.

Steve McNair had owned the Steelers during his time in Tennessee and Baltimore. But he’d never had to start opposite James Harrison until that night.

It would seem that Silverback made a lasting impression.

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Stepping It Up When Times Get Tough

The glow of Super Bowl XLIII masks the fact that the 2008 Steelers were maddingly inconsistent on offense. Their late November game vs. San Diego provides a perfect example, as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 300 yards, Hines Ward caught for 100 yards, and Willie Parker ran for 115.

But the only points the Steelers scored were off of Jeff Reed’s leg and one defensive score.

  • And as if you had any doubt, that defensive score was made possible by a James Harrison strip sack in the end zone.

That wasn’t all that Harrison did that day. Late in the first half San Diego stood at their 2, threatening to score. James Harrison intercepted the ball and took it back 33 yards, setting up one of Reed’s field goals.

Oh, and if the Steelers backs were far enough to the wall, the penalty differential was 13-2 in San Diego’s favor that day.

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James Harrison – Ball Hawk

Sacking the quarterback is great. Sacking the quarterback and stripping the ball is even better. James Harrison had a knack for doing both. At times it seemed like he had a Tomahawk instead of a forearm and the numbers back this up.

Forced fumbles were a James Harrison specialty

This simple comparison highlights James Harrison’s uniqueness.

In 22% of his games, James Harrison caused the opponent to cough up the ball. Of the other Cowher-Tomin era outside linebackers, only Greg Lloyd had better with a “games with forced fumble” percentage.

While outside linebackers are usually measured by sacks, the forced fumble is an equal and often times greater measure, as the chart indicates.

Of all the linebackers ranked, only Clark Haggans “overperforms” whereas LaMarr Woodley perhaps under performs. Otherwise you have a pretty fair ranking of the Steelers outside linebackers during the Cowher-Tomlin era.

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Silverback Leading by Example

Joey Porter antagonized the opposition. Greg Lloyd demanded excellence of his teammates both on and off the field. James Farrior acted the quarterback of the defense and led in the locker room.

  • Some players, quiet by their nature, lead by example.

Most players, when they reach elite status, refuse to play special teams. Yet when the Steelers kicking coverage was struggling against Jacksonville in the 2008 playoff game, James Harrison agreed to cover kicks.

Needless to say Jacksonville enjoyed no more long kickoff returns.

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Super Bowl XLIII James Harrison, Game Changer

Super Bowl XLIII will be remember for many things. Lombardi Number Six. Ben Roethlisberger authored the most incredible come from behind drive in Super Bowl history.

But what made that drive relevant came at the end of the first half, as Arizona was looking to score a touchdown with time expiring, when James Harrison made a read and decided to do a little free lancing. Here, one more time, is what happened:

Dick LeBeau calls James Harrison’s 100 yard touchdown run the best defensive play he has ever seen. What a game changer it was.

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Silverback Finishes Outside of Steelers Nation, But Legacy Remains Untarnished

Sadly, James Harrison will not finish his career in the Black and Gold. Salary cap considerations and pride did not allow it.

But that changes nothing. His contribution to the Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker Legacy will always remain intact.

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Jarvis Jones Gives Steelers Nation A Sight for Sore Eyes – No. 95 Making Splash Plays Again

Sometimes error can lead to great fortune. Going into the 2013 NFL Draft, draft nicks knocked Jarvis Jones because he was a little slow.

Gil Brandt, architect of the Dallas Doomesday Dynasty of the 1970’s didn’t consider Jones a first round talent explaining, “I think he’s one of those guys that when you’re rushing the passer, he’s going to almost get there, but not quite.”

The Steelers made their own evaluations of Jones, and perhaps that included the knowledge that a minor injury tainted Jones combine time and they selected Jarvis Jones in the first round.

Shortly after joining the Steelers Jones upped the ante, by choosing 95 for his jersey number. While 95 doesn’t hold hallowed status in Steelers lore the way 12 (Terry Bradshaw), 32 (Franco Harris), 47 (Mel Blount), 58 (Jack Lambert), 59 (Jack Ham), and 75 (Joe Greene) do, it is the number worn by Greg Lloyd and therefore commands respect.

  • Some of the players donning number 95 recently haven’t lived up to the standard (think Alonzo Jackson).

There were very few bright spots in the torturing the Steelers suffered at the hands of the Titans. But there was one highlight worth reliving (available as of 9/13/13):

  • You call that, Steelers Nation, hitting with authority.

Yes, it Jones has only made one play. Yes, it is perhaps understandable that the Titans might “forget” to account for a rookie so early in the season – the Bengals won’t suffer a similar memory lapse this weekend.

But for ten years Greg Lloyd executed exactly that type of decisive playmaking to breath legend into Number 95.

Jones still has long way to go to live up to the standard set by his fellow Georgian.

  • But his booming tackle of Chris Johnson amounted to a very strong step.

And number 95 smashing players in the backfield gives Steelers Nation a sight for sore eyes.

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Steelers 2013 Roster Analysis, Defense: Linebackers

Steel Curtain Risings analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 roster continues with the unit that has traditionally been the strength of  the franchise, the linebackers.

Starters: Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, and LaMarr Woodley
Back Ups:  Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter, Vince Williams, Kion Wilson and Terrance Martin

Strengths: If Lawrence Timmons can maintain his level from a year ago and LaMarr Woodley can play to his pre-injury standard this until can wreak havoc.

Weaknesses:  An under appreciated strength of James Harrison was his ability to completely snuff the run. Can Jason Worilds pick up that slack when he has struggled. Larry Foote’s play in 2012 was generally solid but age is creeping up on him, and he’s never been known for his speed.

The Skinny:  The transgenerational gift that Steelers have seemingly had had a gift for finding linebackers will be put to the test in 2013 as it was in 2012. The key here is consistency. Lawrence Timmons has yet to put together back to back solid seasons. LaMarr Woodley has always run hot and cold. While many were lamenting the absence of James Harrison in early 2012, Worilds proved he can rush the passer. Can he stop the run?

Click here and scroll around to read analysis of other position areas on the Steelers 2013 Roster.

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Steelers Draft Jarvis Jones in First Round of 2013 NFL Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 NFL Draft with a rainbow of needs but a few colors in the spectrum shown more brightly than others.

One of those needs was at outside linebacker, and Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert addressed that need in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by picking Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Jones entered the 2013 NFL Draft as a junior, beginning his college career at USC and then transferring to Georgia after sitting out 2010. Jones started for two years for the Bulldogs wracking up 13.5 sacks during his sophomore season and adding another 14.5 in his final year.

The Steelers clearly saw a lot they liked in Jones, having brought him to the South Side for one of their pre-draft visits. Jones took the step of mocking himself before the draft, and when the Steelers turn came to pick they immediately sent their card to the commissioner.

Given Kevin Colbert’s evaluation of Jones, it is not hard to see why they waited, as Colbert explained:

He definitely is one of the guys I talked about the other day as being a special player in this draft. He’s a solid kid, a great player. He was dominant at a major college. He plays the run, chases the ball and most important he gets after the passer.

The knock on Jones was that he was slow, posting a slow time in the combine, but that fact pleased the Steelers, as it allowed Jones to fall to 17.

Wither Jason Worilds?

Jones has big shoes to fill, with the working assumption being that the Steelers drafted him to replace to James Harrison, a recent cap casualty and current Cincinnati Bengal.

The story holds a slight twist however, as in the second round of the 2010 Draft the Steelers already picked Harrison’s heir apparent in the form of Jason Worilds.

Most fans are already speculating that the pick of Jones means the Steelers have no confidence in Worilds.

  • But the Steelers might just have other plans up there sleeve.

Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider mentioned that someone inside the Steelers organization said that Jarvis reminded them of Chad Brown. The interesting part of that comparison is that Chad Brown’s started at inside linebacker before moving outside in the wake of Greg Lloyds injury on opening day in 1996.

  • Another prominent blogger has suggested in a private conversation that the Steelers could use him at inside linebacker.

That’s all speculation, but Jason Worlids both gives the Steelers a year of security to make that determination as well as gets a fire lit under him.

Regardless of whether he plays inside linebacker or outside linebacker, the Steelers need anyone who can play linebacker.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Jarvis Jones.

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Steelers Draft Needs: Longing for More of the Linebacker Legacy

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a franchise which yields nothing to anyone with it comes to its Linebacker Legacy. While the original Steel Curtain provided the heart of the Super Steelers defense, linebackers Andy Russell, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert provided the unit’s mind and soul.

  • Russell and Ham knew enough to shut down opponents plays before the snap count started. Lambert simply brought attitude.

And the tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. From Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland to Joey Porter and James Farrior to James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons.

If the Steelers are to continue linebacker legacy they must do so in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Steelers will begin 2013 with:

  • One outside linebacker whose last two seasons have been ruined by injury (LaMarr Woodley)
  • Another outside linebacker who is a big question mark (Jason Worilds)
  • An aging inside linebacker who still has something left, but whose time is fading (Larry Foote)
  • Another inside linebacker who can’t seem to string to strong seasons together (Timmons)

Worse yet, the Steelers have Adrian Robinson and Chris Carter behind them and neither of whom has proven anything and Stevenson Sylvester whom the Steelers did not think enough of to protect in Restricted Free Agency. (Marshall McFadden is also in the mix, for whatever that is worth.)

Linebacker Needs have “Got the Steelers Inside and Out” 

Clearly the Steelers have needs at linebacker to fill in the 2013 NFL Draft. But if forced to make a decision, as they likely will, which position takes priority, inside or outside?

  • There is no easy answer here, but in this case a simple methodology based on math might help.

For the purposes of evaluating draft-day needs, the Steelers must assume a worst case scenario for 2012’s third round pick Sean Spence.

But even if you assume that Sean Spence’s NFL career is over before it started, the Steelers still have Stevenson Sylvester. At this point Sylvester isn’t likely to be anything more than a back up, but he has played well on special teams and has three season’s in Dick LeBeau’s defense under his belt.

Add to that fact that Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote are both under contract, although Foote’s career has clearly entered the “take it year-by-year” phase.

In contrast on the outside, Jason Worilds is a free agent, and even if Robinson and Carter have more of an upside that Sylvester, they both have less experience.

  • Er go, outside linebacker is a higher draft priority than inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft.

But the Steelers would do well to beef up at both positions.

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Steelers Release James Harrison

In a move that was as anticipated as it is being lamented, the Pittsburgh Steelers have cut former NFL Defensive Player of the year James Harrison.

At issue were James Harrison’s salary, his age, and his health. At 34 James Harrison was scheduled to make salaries in the range of 6 to 7 million dollars a year, and was eating up the a large chunk of the Steelers salary cap.

The Steelers attempted to reach a deal with James Harrison, who in fact was willing to take a reduced salary, but as Ed Bouchette reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the two sides could not find a middle ground.

James Harrison joined the Steelers in 2002 and is perhaps the best example of Kevin Colbert’s uncanny ability to find rookie free agents who blossom into stars.

It took several years for Harrison to develop, and he spent time on going on and off the Steelers practice squad. At one point the Baltimore Ravens had him, only to release him. But Harrison broke the starting line up in 2007, after that succeeded in breaking the hearts of quarterbacks.

It’s Now or Never Time for Jason Worilds

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert denied that the team was in transition, but that claim is made more dubious. Salary cap considerations aside, the Steelers chances of getting Lombardi Number Seven in 2013 were far, far better with James Harrison on board.

But the Steelers have salary cap issues, and Kevin Colbert indicated that they were reaching the limit of their ability to perpetually restructure player contracts.

With Harrison out, management is embracing youth, much like it did in 1996 when they let Kevin Greene go in favor of Jason Gildon. Whle Jason Gildon was a quality player, Kevin Greene outplayed him in stints in San Francisco and Carolina over the next few years.

  • Now they’re doing similar experiment with another Jason.

The Steelers drafted Jason Worilds the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Worilds played little in 2010, looked rather unimpressive in a few starts in 2011, but improved somewhat in 2012.

  • For better or for worse, the Steelers will now find out what they really have in Worilds.

Jason Worilds may develop into a quality NFL starter. He might grow into a Clark Haggans or even Jason Gildon type player.

But in replacing James Harrison, Jason Worilds very, very big shoes to fill.

Click here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.
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