Pittsburgh Steelers: Tough Decisions Ahead for the Line Backing Positions

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IFebruary 24, 2011

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Linebackers James Harrison #92 and Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers line up on defense against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Steelers won 27-23.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

While NFL fans await the NFL and NFLPA to finally come to the resolution of working out their differences, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some tough decisions to make in the near future about the position on the team that is historically known for being the best at.

Line Backer.

After recently placing the franchise tag on LaMarr Woodley, and him signing it, at least to me, it is apparent the direction that the Pittsburgh Steelers are heading in.

LaMarr Woodley

After signing the $10 million franchise offer, it is apparent that the Steelers and Woodley are planning on spending, at least, most of their NFL time together.

People that have watched the Steelers for a long time, see a lot in LaMarr Woodley that they saw in some of the Steelers greats of the past.

With the ability to rush the passer and drop back into coverage, Woodley is an all around player, that will be a solid book end for the Steelers rush for the foreseeable future.

Lawrence Timmons

The first pick in the Mike Tomlin era has finally shown that he was worthy of the pick the Steelers used on him, in the first round.

The knocks on Timmons are all now in the rear view mirror, as he is finally playing to his potential, as one of the best Inside Line Backers in the NFL. Timmons finished eighth in the NFL is tackles.

Because it has taken this long for Timmons to finally reach his potential, many Steelers fans don't understand the extent of the talent Timmons has.

Add to that, Timmons is only now 24 years old, which is a great reason as to why he took so long to develop. Reality is, in most cases, the prime of a line backer hits at about 27-28 years old. If Timmons continues to improve at the rate he has, he will be one of the best in the NFL.

With a coach with the stature of Dick LeBeau saying that Timmons has similar abilities to Troy Polamalu, it is hard to imagine that we will not continue to see improvement in Timmons, and he will in fact be one of the top players in the NFL in the very near future.

To me, Timmons and Woodley are with out question the cream of the crop of the Steelers. With their ages, and current ability, and add that to the upside in both of these men, it is with not doubt that they are both in the Steelers future.

Losing either of them would be way too much of a price to pay for the future.

James Farrior

Many of my regular readers know my feelings on James Farrior.  For those of you that do not know, I give much love to James, and his many contributions over the years. He has been a leader, and exactly what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.

It is also painfully obvious that Farriors best days are behind him. He has, in fact, become a liability in pass coverage, and no longer can the Steelers afford to have him on the field in passing situations.

If Farrior is willing to come back, in a limited role (rushing downs), then I would love to have him back. However, with him making roughly $3 million in 2011, it is hard to imagine paying someone that kind of money for only limited play.

James Harrison

Growing up as a Steelers fan, as hard as it is for me to admit, two of my all time favorite Steelers are Jack Lambert and Greg Lloyd. To me, Harrison is a good mix between them, at least in toughness.

Harrison has one speed, full.  He is relentless in his pass rush, and puts pressure on the opposing QBs on every play. Add to that, he is held on near every play, Harrison is, exactly what people call him. A beast.

That being said, the reality of the NFL is painful some times. Harrison is currently the highest paid defender on the Steelers, and his age does not go well with the amount of money he is set to make next year.

At 32 years old, and still being owed $23 million over the next three years ($5.25 million in 2011, $6.32 million in 2012 and $7.325 million in 2013), I have a hard time believing that Harrison is going to be paid that type of money when he is 34 years old.

The other reality is, unfortunately, that the Steelers are probably going to see that Timmons and Woodley are going to cost about that to keep them, they are not going to be able to invest that type of money on a single position.

These men are currently the starters on the Steelers, at least for the moment. The reality is, in Pittsburgh, especially at Line Backer, most of the time, once you hit 30, your replacement is already on the team.

That is the case again this year, as in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected the players for the future.

Jason Worilds

Though he did not get a lot of playing time his rookie season, that is not an uncommon factor in Pittsburgh.

In his limited playing time, Worilds played rush end for three plays earlier this year, while Harrison was banged up. In his three plays, the opposition passed the ball twice, and Worilds was hitting the other QBs as he released the ball. On the running play, he tackled the ball carrier in the back field.

Worilds is the replacement for James Harrison. Depending on his progress, will determine how long James Harrison remains with the Steelers. If Worilds can have a great off season (if there is one), the Steelers could trade Harrison for a late first or early second round pick.

Stevenson Sylvester

When the Steelers drafted Sylvester in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, I believed that he was going to need three to four years before he was ready to be a solid contributor. I have changed my mind, as Sylvester seems to have a type of mean streak that the Steelers have not seen since Joey Porter.

Ironic they wear the same number, huh?

Sylvester is not going to have the same learning curve as Lawrence Timmons, simply because he is not going to be asked to be the leader of the defense.

Much like the combination of Harrison and Worilds, Farrior's fate is in the hands of the progress of Stevenson Sylvester. The cushion that the Steelers have, is Keyaron Fox, who could help ease the transition for the Steelers.

Keyaron Fox

Speaking of Fox, many Steelers fans, with torches and pitch forks are calling for the head of Fox after his bone headed play on the final kick off to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, costing the Steelers 15 yards on a personal foul penalty.

I, on the other hand, believe that people deserve second chances. Yes, I wanted his head as well, but I believe that Mike Tomlin will have this issue corrected long before next season, if he has not already.

Fox is good in pass coverage, and decent against the run. In spot duty, he has held his own, and is still a valuable asset to the Steelers.

Larry Foote

Even though Foote was brought back to the Steelers, he didn't really get the time on the field that I had hoped he would. He has seemed to have lost a step, and no longer has the closing speed he needs to, to be successful in the Steelers organization.

Foote may still make the Steelers roster in 2011, but I don't think the Steelers will be able to carry both Foote and Farrior. If one goes, the other is going to have to leave.  If both stay, it will be a sign that the young guys are not progressing the way they need to. It may even force the Steelers to select another line backer in the 2011 NFL Draft, though it is not really what they need.

All Steelers fans know that the Steelers are going to continue to have one of, if not the best LB corp in the NFL. If they have drafted as well as they have in the past, there is no reason to think why they should not be the best still going forward.


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