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Versatile linebacker Moats getting up to speed with Steelers

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats practices on the South Side.

Dick LeBeau watched with angst last season as age and injuries left the Steelers defense vulnerable to open-field runners and game-breaking receivers.

The venerable defensive coordinator had to come to grips with the reality that the Steelers lacked sufficient speed to slow down the likes of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Detroit's Calvin Johnson.

In a league in which speed is a necessity, the Steelers were lagging.

The Steelers discovered speed during the NFL Draft and in the free agent market. They landed Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round and signed two free agents: free safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker Arthur Moats.

“We had as good of an OTA (organized team activities) session as I've been a part of,” LeBeau said. “I'm excited about where we are.”

Mostly, LeBeau is excited about an infusion of speed. With Shazier, Moats, second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones and a healthy Cortez Allen at one corner, the Steelers are capable of recovering from missed tackles and blown assignments.

Moats, who played with the Buffalo Bills the past four seasons, is among the Steelers' most intriguing offseason acquisitions. He is a fast, versatile linebacker with immeasurable energy and an uncanny ability to adapt, considering he played for three defensive coordinators in Buffalo.

“I feel I bring a lot of versatility being able to play inside and out,” said Moats, who played mostly on the outside during minicamp. “At the same time, I know what it takes to be a part of the defense that has had success.”

The James Madison product, playing alongside linebacker Kiko Alonso, helped the Bills finish fourth in total defense in the AFC last season. But he had only 54 combined tackles — 105 less than Alonso.

The Steelers needed help at linebacker after the departure of LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Larry Foote the past two years. Moats considered other options, but he said the Steelers were an easy pick.

“I wanted a situation where I could contribute immediately and compete for a starting job,” Moats said. “I understand my role, so when I saw all the losses at linebacker, I was prepared to jump at the opportunity because I think we had a mutual interest.

“I wanted to come here, and they wanted me.

“It's an honor to be a part of a legacy and tradition of great linebackers. You definitely want to advance it further.”

While Moats can make the transition from outside to inside linebacker, he already has made an impression on special teams, a unit that often was as inconsistent as the defense during last season's 8-8 campaign.

“The Steelers have had a lot of success, and I'm confident they have the talent to compete for another championship,” Moats said. “They're trying to get over that little stumble they've had recently, and I'm sure I can help.

“I feel like my situation in Buffalo helped me a lot, including having three different defensive coordinators. I can't come out here half-stepping, so I'll be ready when camp starts.”

The Steelers are scheduled to report to training camp July 25 at St. Vincent. The first scheduled practice is July 26.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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