3 players colliding for LB spot
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This much is known about the Steelers' linebackers, arguably the finest unit in the National Football League:
When the final cuts are made and the regular season begins, eight of them will be on the 53-man roster. That is the number of linebackers the Steelers kept last season and that is the number they are expected to keep in 2010.
Of those, seven are considered locks to make the team: Outside linebackers James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and No. 2 draft pick Jason Worilds and inside linebackers James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox.
That leaves one spot to be had for two rookie draft choices -- outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State; or inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, a fifth-round pick from Utah who has been something of a training-camp standout.
- Game: Steelers at New York Giants, New Meadowlands Stadium.
- When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
- TV: KDKA.
And don't forget about outside linebacker Patrick Bailey, a special-teams contributor who, if he makes the team, will do so solely on his ability to cover kicks and punts.
"I don't try to pay too much attention to it because whatever's going to happen will happen," Sylvester said. "There's never an opportunity where you can't. I never say I can't do anything. There's always a chance something could happen. So as long as there's one chance, you got to go out there and try to make it. I feel like there's one chance for me."
So far, Sylvester has been doing his best to take advantage of that opportunity as the Steelers head into their final days at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
And, in the next couple weeks, coach Mike Tomlin will have to decide what combination of inside and outside linebackers he will keep. Gibson might seem like the obvious choice because of his draft position and pedigree, not to mention the need for a fourth outside linebacker.
But, after missing the offseason training activities because classes were still in session at Ohio State, he is way behind on the learning curve and will need at least another full season to catch up.
Sylvester's biggest problem is his position. There are already four inside backers in front of him on the depth chart. However, Sylvester played outside linebacker in third-down situations at Utah, allowing for the possibility he could play there in case of injuries.
The Steelers know it will be difficult to slip either rookie through waivers and put them on the practice squad.
"He has natural instincts to the ball, and you definitely have to have that as an inside backer -- you have to have a feel for plays and where it's going," Farrior said. "You definitely have to be thinking like the running back thinks, and I think he does good job of that. He has a nose for the ball. He's definitely going to be around the ball."
But Farrior and the coaches have one concern about Sylvester: They believe he needs to play lower.
Sylvester is only 6-21/2, 237 pounds, but he has long legs and tends to play high, making it easier to knock him off his feet.
"We got to get him down," linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "If he doesn't get down, he's going to get the stuffing knocked out of him. I don't know if I can get that out of him."
"It's something he definitely is going to have to learn," Farrior said. "It doesn't look comfortable to him. But he's always around the ball and he's always where he needs to be in the proper position. But he just has to get his [pad] level lower."
Sylvester acknowledged it's a problem he has had since high school.
"My college coach always told me that," Sylvester said. "I worked day and night to try to get it down, but I have such longer legs than most. I've got longer legs than torso, so it's kind of hard for me to bend, and when I'm bending I think I'm bending enough but it's not as much as the coaches want.
"I'm working on it. It's a process. I've gone through it a lot. Raising up to a comfortable level is kind of easy for me to do. But I do have to play lower to play in the NFL."
First Published August 19, 2010 12:00 am