Adrian Robinson could be asked to play more on the Defensive side of the ball this year. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Release of James Harrison Leaves Steelers With Uncertainty at Outside Linebacker

As we all know, Outside Linebacker James Harrison was released by the Steelers yesterday.  Unfortunately, neither side could come to a financial agreement, and “Deebo” was sent packing.  With #92 now out of town, the Steelers are in a bit of a bind at the Outside Linebacker position as they head into the 2013 campaign.  Sure, former Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley is still slotted to start on the other side.  But what happens if the soon-to-be 29 year-old shows up tubby and uninspired again in 2013?

Regardless of how Woodley performs, the Steelers might be set to rely on a group of largely untested players at Outside Linebacker in 2013.

To his credit, Jason Worilds has performed well in spurts as a pass-rusher (10.0 career Sacks) during his career in Pittsburgh.  But the soon to be 4th year man out of Virginia Tech has missed his fair share of time due to injuries, and must prove to the team that he can stay healthy and contribute heavily in a starting role.  Furthermore, Worilds must prove that he can be stout and the point of attack, and set the edge against some of the League’s best Left Tackles the run game like Harrison did.

Chris Carter’s 2012 season ended on I.R., and he will be looking to get his career “on track” in his third professional season.  Overall, Carter has yet to record a single Sack at the N.F.L. level (11 Tackles total), and he looked completely over-matched when he started in Harrison’s place to begin last season.  2013 could be a “make-or-break” year for the former Fresno State Bulldog from a performance-perspective, because he is sure to have some young and hungry competition nipping at his heels.

Before he spent all of his 2012 season on Special Teams, 2012 UDFA Adrian Robinson did a solid job during the Preseason period as a pass-rusher.  Granted, the former college Defensive End’s skill-set at the position was a bit raw, and he was playing against fellow backups.  Yet Robinson’s relentlessness and tenacity off of the edge were welcome sights to me and fans alike.  Thus, if Linebackers Coach Keith Butler can help to develop other aspects of Robinson’s game like “setting-the-edge,” playing in space in pass-coverage, and using his leverage better as a pass-rusher, the former Temple Owl could definitely be a “diamond in the rough” for the team to turn to once he is ready to play.

Finally, do not forget about the potential addition of a high Round Draft choice at Outside Linebacker either.  Although it has never been in the Steelers’ nature to select Outside Linebackers in the early Rounds of the Draft (Chad Brown at #44 in 1993 is highest in 20 years, and he played ILB as well), they could very well be forced to go in that direction early this year if a talented player is available for them to take in Rounds 1-3.

As I have stated before, the possibility exists that a number of talented Pass-Rushers could fall to Pittsburgh at #17 overall due to injury, scheme-fit, off-field, or poor workout reasons.  Thus, Jarvis Jones, Damontre Moore, Barkevious Mingo, or Bjoern Werner could be available for Colbert & Co. to take in Round 1.  Even if the Steelers elect to fill their Pass-Rusher needs in on Day 2 (Rounds 2 & 3), there could be a wealth of talented players available for them to select from in the forms of Corey Lemonier, Jamie Collins, and Brandon Jenkins.

The competition for playing time with Harrison absent is sure to be open to any and all able bodied players at the position.  Thus, it is conceivable that any Rookie selected (high or low) could be asked to play out of necessity, especially if Worilds and Carter cannot stay off of the “Injury Report” instead of in the lineup.

 

Final Thoughts

Over the last two decades, a “transition strategy” has always seemed to have been in place when Pittsburgh’s Outside Linebackers have left town:

 

  • Chad Brown replaced Kevin Greene when he left for Carolina in 1996.

 

  • Jason Gildon replaced Brown when he went to Seattle in 1997

 

  • Carlos Emmons replaced Greg Lloyd when he was released in 1998.

 

  • Joey Porter replaced Emmons when he signed with Philadelphia in 2000.

 

  • Clark Haggans replaced Gildon when he was released back in 2004.

 

  • James Harrison replaced Porter when he was released back in 2007.

 

  • LaMarr Woodley replaced Haggans when he left for Arizona in 2008.

 

I understand that it is early in the offseason.  But what truly scares me though is the fact that the Steelers do not exactly have an iron-clad “transition strategy” in place at Outside Linebacker.  Granted, I have faith that this franchise can find an “answer” like they have so many times before.  Yet the uncertainty and inexperience surrounding the position could be cause for alarm amongst the Front Office and Coaching Staff alike.

Who do I believe has the best chance to will step up alongside Woodley as a starter this year?  I have no idea.  If Worilds stays healthy, he will likely have the best chance.  But as long as “Deebo” can be replaced in the productive/statistical aggregate, any duo, trio, or quartet that emerges will be fine with me.

All I can say is that I am certainly interested to see what transpires, and who emerges at Outside Linebacker over the next calendar year.

 

 

Stats Courtesy of: Pro-Football Reference and ESPN.com

 

Players Contract Info. Provided By: Spotrac.com

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Tags: 2013 Free Agency 2013 NFL Draft Adrian Robinson Chris Carter James Harrison Jason Worilds Lamarr Woodley Outside Linebacker

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