The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a rich tradition at the linebacker position for decades now and the list of Steelers greats at the position is a long one.
So, you can imagine the pressure one might feel being a linebacker drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No season in recent memory may bring that pressure more than 2015.
The Steelers have invested a lot into the linebacker position in recent NFL drafts taking a linebacker in the first round the past three years. 2013 brought Jarvis Jones (17th pick overall) out of Georgia, 2014 Ryan Shazier (15th pick overall) out of Ohio State and in 2015 Bud Dupree (22nd pick overall) out of Kentucky.
Jarvis Jones 25 , is now heading into his third season in the NFL. He started 8 games as a rookie, playing in 14. He collected 40 tackles and 1 sack in 2013. He showed flashes of ability but still had a ways to go to meet the expectations placed on a player chosen 17th overall.
In 2014 Jones started off the season fast. Over the first 3 games he had 14 tackles and 2 sacks but in game 3 against the Carolina Panthers he would injure his wrist while forcing a fumble and have to have surgery. Jones would not return to action again till December and finished the season with 18 tackles and 2 sacks for the season.
Jarvis Jones is heading into a very pivotal season in 2015. This could be his make or break season.
Will Jones step up in 2015? His position coach Joey Porter believes the answer is yes. Porter spoke to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on his thoughts on Jones this off-season…
Joey Porter: “I thought Jarvis was playing good last year until he got hurt, so it doesn’t bother me on how it ended last year with Jarvis. I still think he is one of the better linebackers in the league and he will be that. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
“I’ve been encouraged with Jarvis,I think Jarvis has had a good offseason. He’s getting stronger. He’s doing some things that he knows he needs to do to get better for this year. He’s not naive to know what he’s done so far. It doesn’t meet his standards and he knows there’s a lot more in there.”
Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier 22, started his rookie campaign with a bang in his very first pre-season game. He began the game making 4 tackles in the opening drive,roaming the field like a one man tackling machine.
Shazier ended the game with 11 total tackles, 9 on defense and 2 more on special teams. He also had an impressive interception that he returned 27 yards that set up the Steelers second touchdown of the game.
Shazier would start the first three games of 2014 and was progressing nicely. He had 11 tackles against Baltimore in week 2 but would injure his right knee in the third game of the season and miss the next 4 weeks . He would return in week 8 but injure his ankle in week 9 and miss an additional 4 weeks.
Shazier showed plenty of potential in 2014 but injuries set him back during his rookie season. Will Shazier continue to grow in 2015? Can he stay healthy?
Shazier had this to say about his rookie season and moving forward to 2015…
Ryan Shazier:“It just went by so fast,there was a lot that I learned. A lot to still learn. I felt like the injury helped me learn a lot. Just to see and feel the game helped me a lot for next season. We just have to make sure everything is better next year. I have to keep working and come back stronger.”
The Steelers went back to the linebacker position when making their 1st round pick of the 2015 NFL Draft taking Bud Dupree out of Kentucky.
Dupree 6-4, 269 was a team captain for Kentucky in 2014. He finished 2014 with 74 tackles,12.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.He started his last 38 career games at Kentucky totaling 23.5 sacks,248 total tackles and 36 tackles for a loss during his 45 game career.
Bud Dupree had a great NFL combine,running a blazing 4.56 in the 40 yard dash, also topping every player at his position in the broad jump 138.0 and vertical jump 42.0.
Will Dupree’s skills translate well into the NFL ? The Steelers are banking that answer is a big yes.
It would be unfair and somewhat unreasonable to expect too much out of Dupree early in his rookie season but the Steelers could use as many big play makers on defense as they can get. Dupree spoke about his progress after OTA’S…
Bud Dupree: “It’s been a good time, getting used to the team and learning the plays, a great opportunity,I’m getting used to the NFL system, the speed and everything. Everything’s starting to click for me now.
“Right now I’m at the point where I just need to go out there and play.”
The Steelers have invested a great deal in the linebacker position the past three seasons and the time has come for these first round picks to start showing positive dividends.
Will these investments pay off in 2015? The Steelers defensive future success hinges on it !
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