Depth a concern for Steelers' Colbert
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is worried. He's as worried as one can be in February, and for a pretty good reason.
Upcoming free agency might void the Steelers of not only key depth at a couple of vital positions, but totally decimate arguably their most important position — outside linebacker.
Sack leader Jason Worilds is a free agent and might go elsewhere.
Veteran James Harrison could retire, and Arthur Moats played well enough last year to garner interest on the open market.
That would leave former first-rounder Jarvis Jones and a couple of unknowns — Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon — as the only outside linebackers on the roster.
That would be a problem.
“We are worried about it today, but I feel comfortable that we will be fine once we get to August,” Colbert said this week.
While outside linebacker is the most glaring, it is not the only issue facing the Steelers. Tight ends and cornerbacks are in the same conversation as outside linebackers — not much depth.
Tight ends Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer are free agents, as well as corners Ike Taylor, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. Blake is a restricted free agent and will likely return, while McCain and Taylor are still up in the air.
With free agency less than a month away, the Steelers find themselves with a lot more questions than answers.
All will addressed shortly, but until then Colbert knows there's not much depth, especially at outside linebacker.
“When you go through an offseason, you see where you finished and you look at the first opportunity to improve your team,” Colbert said. “The first opportunity will be in keeping your own players. The second opportunity would be free agency, and then what is going to be available in the draft.”
The Steelers rely on their outside linebackers in the 3-4 defense to create pressure on the quarterback. Worilds, Harrison and Moats combined for 17 of the Steelers' 33 sacks and 39 quarterback pressure/hurries last year
Jones and Lemon round out the current players on the roster. Jones, a project from Shepherd University, spent last year on the practice squad, and Lemon was recently signed from the CFL.
Colbert said the Steelers could add “young depth” at the position that could include free agency and the draft.
“There will be good candidates,” Colbert said. “Even looking ahead to the draft, that's probably one of the positions that is potentially strong. And I say potentially because outside linebackers for the most part are projections. But right now there are a nice group of candidates for that position.”
Young depth is something that coach Mike Tomlin has talked about adding. Colbert wants to add young and experienced depth.
Last year, the Steelers added Moats and McCain. Both played extensively, both were coming off their rookie contracts and both came cheap. Moats and McCain were signed to one-year, veteran minimum deals and outperformed their contracts.
“I kind of like that type of depth,” Colbert said. “It's an experienced, young depth, as opposed to the rookie that has to be thrown in.”
The Steelers already have young depth at tight end with Rob Blanchflower, but he doesn't fit the mold of what the Steelers want from their second tight end. Spaeth almost exclusively was used as blocking tight end last year. Blanchflower, the Steelers seventh-round pick in 2014, is more of a receiving tight end.
“Well, tight end is a little bit like outside linebacker,” Colbert said. “We have a young, unproven guy in Rob Blanchflower who is like Howard Jones. They are young kids coming off the practice squad and are yet to be proven as NFL players. Yeah, I'm a little concerned about the depth there. Again, you want to have, as we referenced earlier, young depth. So that may include a young free agent. It may include a draft pick.”