Steelers rookie Stevenson Sylvester making an impact
Stevenson Sylvester, who followed up a solid NFL preseason debut with a sack and a quarterback hurry Saturday night, seems intent on forcing the Steelers to make a tough decision at linebacker.
One thing the Steelers need not worry about when it comes to Sylvester is the rookie fifth-round pick staying focused -- or grounded.
All it takes is a phone conversation with his mother for Sylvester to be reminded of all that he didn't do in a game such as the Steelers' 24-17 win against the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium.
That is because Angela Levi, a former college basketball player at Southern Utah, has never been shy about critiquing her son in any sport.
"It's like having a coach around 24/7," Sylvester said with a laugh. "Even some things coaches might have missed, she didn't. She played sports herself, so she really understands the games, even football, which is crazy. Her criticism really helps me because I work on my negatives a lot more than that."
Sylvester's positives have outweighed his negatives through training camp and the Steelers' first two preseason games.
The 6-2, 231-pounder has gotten the coaches' attention with his athleticism and nose for the ball.
He led the Steelers with seven tackles in their preseason opener on Aug. 14. Against the Giants, a blitzing Sylvester shot through an opening up the middle of the line in the fourth quarter and dropped Giants quarterback Rhett Bomar for an eight-yard loss.
"He's a very good prospect," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We've got a lot of numbers here. That's a nice problem to have."
Indeed, the Steelers are set at inside linebacker where they have starters James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons and established players in Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox backing them up.
The problem with Sylvester, if he continues to develop, is the Steelers risk losing him if they cut the former Utah star in early September and try sneaking him onto their practice squad.
Sylvester will have to show the Steelers he can contribute on special teams for them to keep an extra linebacker. They also will have to decide whether the rangy Sylvester can adjust to playing with a lower center of gravity since his height and long legs can compromise his leverage when trying to shed blockers.
"He plays high," Butler said. "I don't know if that's something we can get out of him, but we're going to try."
Butler will no doubt get help in this area from Sylvester's mother.
Also aiding in that endeavor are the veterans at inside linebacker who mentor Sylvester on a daily basis.
"Those guys have been in the league a long time, and they know the ins and outs of it," Sylvester said. "I took it as, great, they're here, so I can have more to learn from. Every play they help me, telling me I should have been in this gap or I should have been lined up here. It's been very beneficial."
The Sylvester File
Rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester had a highly productive career at Utah before the Steelers took him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April. Here are some highlights from his career at Utah.
• First team All Mountain West Conference Pick in 2009; led Utah with 81 tackles
• Defensive MVP of 2009 Poinsettia Bowl after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a TD in 37-27 win against California
• Two-year team captain and started 37 of the 49 games in which he played
• Had seven tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery in Utah's upset of Alabama in 2009 Sugar Bowl
• Finished second on team in tackles (86) and tackles for losses (10) as a sophomore