Jun 17, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sean Spence (51) participates in drills during minicamp at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Improved Steelers Linebackers Should Anchor Defense

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The Steelers linebackers are so vastly improved over last year that they suddenly have become one of the league’s best.  What a difference a year makes.

Last year the linebackers looked good coming into the season, but didn’t turn out like expected.  LaMaar Woodley, Jarvis Jones, and Jason Worilds seemed to form one of the best OLB stables in the league.  At inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote formed a nice starting duo and the backups weren’t awful.  Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, and Kion Wilson were formidable backups.  By the end of the season all of that was turned on it’s head.  At outside linebacker LaMaar Woodley and Jarvis Jones disappointed when they were able to get on the field, but Jason Worilds showed why he was a second round pick.  At inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons once again played outstanding.  Larry Foote got injured before he could even make an impact, but Vince Williams and Terence Garvin were fine replacing him.

This year the outside linebackers aren’t looked at as highly as they were last year, but they aren’t anything to slouch at either.  On the inside they are looked at as among the best in the league heading into the year.  Both groups are boosted up by players who are expected to break out this year.  On the outside that’s Jarvis Jones and on the inside it’s Sean Spence.

Jarvis Jones was expected to be a starter as rookie last year, but there’s a reason that most rookies can’t accomplish that feat in Dick LeBeau’s defense.  Jones struggled with functional strength issues and being fully acclimated to the playbook.  This year, however, he has been working to improve his strength along with studying the playbook.  He has also been watching Joey Porter film to try and improve his game.  All indications from training camp and the one preseason game are that his hard work has been paying off.  Jones looks like he could bounce back from last year and be a valuable starter in 2014.  It’s not out of the question that he reaches 8 sacks.

It’s no secret that Sean Spence has had a tough road so far in his NFL career.  In the preseason of his rookie year Spence suffered a major knee injury that sidelined him for the whole year.  Last year he looked like he would be able to play, until a broken finger took him out for the year.  This year he is finally ready for game action.  In his first game since his rookie year he looked absolutely amazing.  He got the start in place of injured Ryan Shazier and didn’t disappoint.  He seemed to be in on every single play or at least affecting it in some way.  From the sounds of it he hasn’t been disappointing in training camp either.  At the very least Spence is shaping up to be a fantastic third linebacker this year, but if Shazier continues to miss time then he could have a position battle on his hands.

If Jarvis Jones and Sean Spence are for real, then the linebacking corps in Pittsburgh is sure to be one of the best in the league.  They are already shaping up to be the anchors for the defense in the Steel City this year.

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