Special Teams Play Will Help Steelers Sort Out Backup Linebackers


Aug 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib (9) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (44) during the second half at Heinz Field. The Giants won the game, 18-13. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The only linebacker who was released by the Steelers over the weekend was Stevenson Sylvester.  While the release of the underachieving veteran made sense, I was nevertheless intrigued when I saw that Pittsburgh’s brass did not release any of their other backup linebackers.

In a recent article by Ray Fittipaldo of The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, head coach Mike Tomlin clarified exactly why the rest of the team’s backups were kept on the roster through the first series of cuts.  Most importantly however, Tomlin explained how each of the players could solidify their own place on the team this fall:

"“I told them [Tuesday] morning it’s less about what they do on defense and more about what they do on special teams, … We need more consistent above-the-line effort from some of those guys in that regard.”"

I think that Marshall McFadden’s experience on Pittsburgh’s practice squad last year and knowledge of the team’s defensive scheme should give him the inside track to win the primary backup behind Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote.  McFadden enjoyed a solid preseason in 2012 (15 tackles ranked second on the team), and is in the midst of another one this year (11 tackles).  So as long as McFadden proves to be a reliable option on special teams, the top backup job on the inside should be his to lose.

While many expected Vince Williams to be a practice squad player after he was drafted, the rookie from Florida State is now second on Pittsburgh’s depth chart behind Foote at the “buck” position.   A hard hitter, Williams is actually leading the Steelers’ in solo tackles during preseason play and even notched a sack during the Steelers’ game against the Giants.

Like Williams though, Brian Rolle (seven tackles, 1.0 sack), Kion Wilson (nine tackles, 1.0 sack), and Terence Garvin (10 tackles) have all made their presences felt on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams during the preseason too.  Thus, they still have one final chance to climb up the depth chart ladder.

As far as outside linebackers are concerned, it looks like a two-man battle for a single backup spot between Chris Carter and Alan Baxter.  Even if the Steelers elect to go with the veteran Carter on their regular season roster, the undrafted rookie could still play himself into a practice squad berth with a better showing on special teams.  The rookie has already illustrated his raw pass-rushing ability (2.0 sacks in three games), so he has definitely left an impression.

I am definitely interested to see how much of an impact each of these players can make in tomorrow’s preseason finale against the Panthers.  Although I believe that McFadden is almost assured of a roster spot, Williams, Rolle, Wilson, Garvin, Carter, and Baxter are still all on the bubble.

All seven have convinced Pittsburgh’s coaching staff to keep them around for one final audition, so it would certainly be nice to see the winners of this competition emerge as helpful and heady contributors on special teams this fall.

Stats & Info. Provided By: ESPN.comSteelers.com and Pro Football Reference

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