By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
After taking a look at the Steelers inside linebacker depth, I will now take a look at the outside linebackers, which is a group with plenty of questions heading into training camp.
Players on Roster:
-#92 James Harrison (6’0″, 242 lbs.; 38 years old; 14 years experience; Kent State)
-#48 Bud Dupree (6’4″, 269 lbs.; 23 years old; 2 years experience; Kentucky)
-#95 Jarvis Jones (6’3″, 248 lbs.; 26 years old; 4 year experience; Georgia)
-#55 Arthur Moats (6’0″, 246 lbs.; 28 years old; 7 years experience; James Madison)
-#56 Anthony Chickillo (6’3″, 255 lbs.; 23 years old; 2 years experience; Miami)
-#41 Travis Feeney (6’4″, 226 lbs.; 23 years old; Rookie; Northern Iowa)
-#57 Mike Reilly (6’4”, 240 lbs.; 24 years old; 1 year experience; William & Mary)
For years, the Steelers have been known for their fearsome pass-rushers. Names like Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley terrorized opposing
quarterbacks for the Steelers through the 2000s. Now, all that remains of the players of old is a 38 year old James Harrison, who at his older age, remains a consistent force for the Steelers defense. The Steelers pass-rush has noticeably declined over recent years but after spending 1st round picks on the outside in 2013 and 2015, the Steelers pass-rush has began to show signs of life. The youth movement truly begins with 2nd year player Bud Dupree, who fell to the Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft. A physical specimen, Dupree kicked off his rookie campaign with a bang, accumulating 4 sacks through his first 8 games. Unfortunately, he cooled off through the last half of the season but was able to show flashes in the playoffs as a solid run defender. This offseason, Dupree has been in noticeably better shape and is a much more vocal player on the field, showing that he is coming along in his 2nd season. If that is the case, Dupree has the chance to try and become the first Steelers defender with double-digit sacks since Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison during the 2010 season. So far, though, Dupree has shown promise as the Steelers outside linebacker of the future.
While Dupree has had some success as a young pass-rusher, the teams other 1st round selection has not had as much success. Jarvis Jones is entering his 4th season with the Steelers, a season where the team made the decision to not pick up his 5th year option. Jones presents an interesting situation for the Steelers. The team pounced on the opportunity to select Jones in the 2013 NFL Draft and to say the results have
been a letdown would be an understatement. Jones was one of the most electrifying pass-rushers in college football and the pick made sense for the Steelers who had just lost James Harrison to the hated Bengals. So far through his first 3 seasons, Jones has totaled 5 sacks amid a number of injuries while being unable to truly nail down a consistent starting spot. Not exactly how you like a 1st round pick to perform. While he has not performed like a 1st rounder should, that does not mean that Jones has not shown anything. Through his career so far, Jones has slowly improved and shown flashes of talent that made the Steelers draft him. In 2015, Jones started 15 games and recorded 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. His motivation has only increased this offseason after the Steelers declined his 5th year option. Being in a contract year with that type of motivation could mean big things for the former Georgia standout. Whether or not Jones remains in the Steelers long-term plans has yet to be seen and much of that will come down to whether or not he can prove to be a valuable piece to the Steelers pass-rush.
James Harrison, entering his 14th NFL season, has shown that he is an ageless wonder. After coming out of retirement to play another again for the Steelers, Harrison has been a steady presence on and off the field for the Steelers young players. Over the past 2 seasons, Harrison has combined for 85 total tackles and 10.5 sacks, as well as adding an interception and 2 forced fumbles in 2015. Not bad for a 38-year old player who rotates off the bench. While his playing days are slowly dwindling to an end (although reports say that he hasn’t ruled out playing again after his contract expires at the end of this season), he still serves an important role for the Steelers defense.
While not as aged as Harrison, Arthur Moats is the other veteran outside linebacker on the roster. Since joining the Steelers in 2014, Moats has been a solid veteran backup that has also seen his fair share of action as a starter, starting 20 games over the past 2 seasons. In that span, Moats has tallied 8 total sacks (4 each season) along with 58 total tackles. With the developing and raw talent among the outside linebackers, a veteran like Moats is a nice security blanket in the time of need.
While the top 4 spots on the roster are all but set in stone, the last 3 players will be butting heads to make it on the final roster. Returning for his 2nd season is defensive end converted outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo. Over the course of last season, Chickillo cut 40 pounds off his frame to be better suited to play outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 scheme. Now while he showed some signs of development after being promoted to the active roster off of the practice squad, he is no lock to make the final roster this season. If he doesn’t make the final roster, it will
probably be due to rookie 6th round draft pick Travis Feeney. While Chickillo came into the NFL needed to lose weight, Feeney will likely be asked to add some weight to his frame. Where Chickillo also lacks in natural athleticism, Feeney far and away blows him out of the water. Feeney posted the 2nd fastest 40 time at the combine this year, which helped him get after quarterbacks at
Washington. The Steelers also clearly think highly of him considering the fact that they were making strong pushes to trade into the 5th round to select the pass-rusher. Another reason why Feeney will be a favorite for the Steelers coaching staff is his willingness and pedigree as a special teams ace. With his athleticism and hard-hitting capabilities, he should be able to find a home on the Steelers special teams unit quickly, which could be bad news for Chickillo, who was forced to play special teams and was average at best. The final player vying for a spot on the roster is Mike Reilly, who is a long-shot to make the roster or practice squad due to his lack of pure athleticism and the potential on the roster ahead of him. At William & Mary, he was a 1st-team All American and was a disruptive force with the Tribe. But so far in the NFL, he has been unable to make any type of real impact, limiting his overall pro potential.
Expected Depth Chart:
- Bud Dupree (Starter)
- Arthur Moats
- Travis Feeney
- Jarvis Jones (Starter)
- James Harrison
Total Players Making the Final 53-Man Roster: 5
Rarely do the Steelers ever keep more than 5 true outside linebackers on the team. Next season, Dupree, Jones, Harrison, and Moats are all locks to make the final 53-man roster.
The final spot on the roster will likely come down to Feeney and Chickillo. I am a huge Chickillo fan but realistically, Feeney has the higher upside, especially on special teams. If it weren’t for his injury concerns with his shoulder, he would have likely been drafted around the 4th round. Getting a 4th round talent in the 6th round is nice value and if he can manage to make an impact on special teams, it is only a matter of time until coach Joey Porter is able to find a way to get him into the rotation, especially with Harrison and Jones not being guarantees to be on the roster next season. With that being said, I would not be surprised to see the Steelers try to bring back Chickillo on the practice squad, where he spent most of last season. He has the potential to be a nice rotational piece if he continues to develop but he simply is not there yet. After greatly improving their sack totals last year, the Steelers defense will look to continue that trend this season and that all starts with the pass-rushers. If Jones and Dupree can live up to their 1st-round billings, they will be forces to be reckoned with.
Coming up next: Cornerbacks. Stay tuned!