Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Prior to the start of training camp, depth at inside linebacker was a concern. It was one of the reasons that the Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier in the first round. Yes, they had potential on the roster with Vince Williams and Sean Spence, but the lack of athleticism and the injury history were of great concern.
After two weeks of training camp, not only have the Steelers identified their starting inside linebackers for 2014, but they may have found that they have four capable starters on their depth chart.
Lawrence Timmons is a clear starter, and Shazier has been running with the first-team defense since the start of training camp. Dick LeBeau likes this inside linebacker combination because of the athleticism of the two players.
“I think those two guys are going to give us a lot of speed at a position that doesn’t necessarily feature speed,” LeBeau told Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “We’re going to be fast at inside ‘backer.’”
The speed of Shazier is why Williams is out of the starting lineup. Rather than sulk, he worked hard and is one of my stars of training camp.
Williams is playing with a chip on his shoulder and looking to prove that he deserves playing time. Thoughout camp, he has been hitting harder than any other linebacker and has set an aggressive tone for the defense as a whole. It was no surprise that he ranked third on the team with five tackles against New York.
But the real story of training camp is Sean Spence. He has made a full recovery from a devastating injury that he suffered as a rookie and looked very comfortable in a starting role on Saturday.
Bleacher Report’s Andrea Hangst wrote that Spence did enough to enter a legitimate competition for a starting job:
But after Spence's performance Saturday night, it looks like a very real battle could be brewing between himself and Shazier for the starting job. And the longer Shazier is shelved, the better the odds get for Spence.
Things will get interesting if Shazier is out of the lineup much longer. Though the odds are against it, Spence may play his way into a starting spot. If nothing else, he is showing the coaches that he wants to be a part of the linebacker rotation.
As good as these four linebackers are, it is impossible not to mention Terence Garvin as well.
He may not have starting potential, but Garvin has had an excellent training camp. He used the offseason to bulk up and it shows. He is just as physical as ever, but packs more punch when he hits, and it doesn’t appear as though he has lost any speed.
With five players deserving playing time, the Steelers coaches have themselves quite a problem as they prepare for the season, but it is a very good problem to have.