The Great 18: Unit Evaluation of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

RealFootball365.comSenior Writer IFebruary 8, 2008

Neal Coolong will go over all 18 positional units on the Steelers and rank them in terms of priority this offseason.

Each player from Pittsburgh's 2007 roster will be evaluated leading up to the start of the free agency period on March 3, based on the Steelers' need to address that position with a change at starter, a free-agent pickup or a draft choice.

10. Inside linebacker
James Farrior, Larry Foote, Clint Kriewaldt, Anthony Trucks (practice squad).

Both Farrior and Foote—the team's starting ILB pair for the last three seasons—played admirably in 2007. They were second and tied for third on the team in tackles, with 96 and 80, respectively, and were two bright spots in an otherwise collapsing 'D' down the stretch.

The problem isn't with either of them, even considering Farrior is now in a contract year. While both have been healthy (Farrior has started all but two games since 2003, and Foote replaced the oft-injured Kendrell Bell in 2004 and hasn't missed a start since), the Steelers really have no depth behind them. Special-teams ace Clint Kriewaldt was placed on the IR last season with a neck injury, and isn't guaranteed to return next year. Anthony Trucks was placed on the Steelers future's list, meaning he will be brought back for camp; however, not only do the Steelers need another inside linebacker to support Foote and Farrior, but they need some help on special teams as well. Pittsburgh has had Kriewaldt for the past five seasons, but he turns 32 in March, and they will have to address this position either via the draft or in free agency.

Look for the Steelers to officially move '07 first-round pick Lawrence Timmons to the inside (he's currently listed on the outside), as he has the physical ability to become even better than Farrior, a former runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (2004, second to Baltimore's Ed Reed). Timmons also emerged as the team's top special-teamer last season. Despite a slow start thanks to a nagging groin injury, Timmons could find himself a full-time spot at linebacker in the nickel and dime packages, considering his finest attribute is his speed and coverage ability.

9. Outside linebacker
LOLBs Clark Haggans, LaMarr Woodley and Arnold Harrison; ROLBs James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Marquis Cooper and Andre Frazier.

Haggans, a Steeler for the past eight seasons, will be going the way of former Colorado State teammate Joey Porter - straight out of Pittsburgh and into free agency. With the emergence of second-year LB LaMarr Woodley, and the breakout season of James Harrison, the Steelers will have replaced the two starting OLBs from their Super Bowl team of 2005-06. Including the playoffs, Haggans didn't register a sack in the team's last nine games, and he only finished with four on the year. He had 10.5 in 2005. Woodley was taken in the second round of the 2007 draft to replace Haggans. He had four sacks on the season, and was probably the team's best performer in its playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Harrison was named the MVP of the team, and he's a starter on the AFC Pro Bowl team this weekend. He led the team in sacks (nine), tackles (98), tackles for loss (seven) and forced fumbles (seven), and is the most explosive member of the Steelers' defense. Cooper, Frazier and Harrison have hung around the Steelers' roster, mostly as special-teamers, but considering the team replaced Porter and will soon let go of Haggans, they can compete for the second-string job and see how that turns out.

Pittsburgh has a knack for finding strong outside linebackers for its system deeper in the draft, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Steelers tag an OLB later on Day 2. But Woodley and Harrison are the unquestioned starters going into 2008.