In almost any good defense, the linebackers are among the most essential and productive contributors. The Steelers know this well as guys like Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley and, going back in time a bit, Jack Lambert, have all been critical to Pittsburgh’s defensive identity over the years. Of course, Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury sidelined his promising career, taking away perhaps the next great Steelers linebacker. The team attempted to replace him this offseason with the drafting of Devin Bush. To his credit, Bush looks like a future star, but outside of him, this team’s linebackers have been overmatched.
While we already touched on the struggles of outside linebackers Watt and Dupree, it’s offseason signing Mark Barron that has been the worst of the group. A former safety, Barron was expected to upgrade the linebacking group’s ability in coverage. Instead, Barron has regressed in nearly every area, failing to cover receivers and tight ends while failing to be an effective run stopper as well. Given Bush’s inexperience at the NFL level, the hope was that Barron would step up as a veteran presence to learn from. Based on his play so far; however, let’s hope the only thing Bush has learned from him is how not to play.
The linebackers are supposed to be the engine that allows the defense to run effectively. Unfortunately, this group is sputtering, and it’s killing Pittsburgh’s defense. Until improvements come, expect this team to remain a dysfunctional mess on the less glamorous side of the ball.