The deepest position on the roster right now might be inside linebacker, and the group is led by newly promoted former Steelers ILB Jerry Olsavsky.
I sat down with Jerry O last Thursday, and, after experiencing a flashback to the summer of 1988, when he was a Pitt captain and I was a rookie beat writer, we talked about inside linebacker play and the upcoming season.
Jerry Olsavsky, ILB coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Q: I think the big question for you this year is about Ryan Shazier. What's he showing different than last year?
JO: Well, when I talked to Ryan he was disappointed with last year, not playing a lot. He has to realize it's a different game than college and he's not head and shoulders above everyone athletically. There are a lot more people closer to him. So we're working on things, keeping his legs clean. He got hurt because he got rolled-up twice. If you don't get rolled up, then you don't get hurt.
Q: Isn't that a concern with a light linebacker in the middle anyway?
JO: It's a concern for a linebacker with bad feet, but we know he's got good feet. We know he can run. It's just sometimes you get too close to guys. You have to have a lot of respect for the game up here, because if not it'll bite you. There are bigger people, there are faster people, so the spaces get small. So that's what we're trying to do. I've talked to him about keeping his feet clean. He won't go on the ground, but in the game it goes a little faster. Lawrence is flying around out there and we want Ryan to do it, too.
Q: That's a fine line: Keep clean but don't lose your aggressiveness.
JO: Yeah, yeah. You have to improve your understanding of how close you can get to people. That's what we're trying to do. But that's why this work out here is great, because you run, you go against fast guys, and you can push yourself. He's been doing a good job. I'm pleased with where he's gone.
Q: Has his understanding improved?
JO: His understanding was very good coming in. He's a smart kid. Everyone makes mistakes every once in a while, but he's less than that. Last year I think he made about two mistakes against Carolina. But that's how the season goes sometimes. Your first game's good, your second game's good -- you don't have any mental errors -- and then you have a game where you miss two things. It's because you're young. You haven't seen these plays as a rookie. That's the thing about last year. This is kind of his redshirt rookie year, do you know what I mean? You should be better than a regular rookie but you've still got some things to learn. He's a good player.
Q: With Ryan and Lawrence Timmons, you have to have the fastest set of inside linebackers in Pittsburgh, since you played anyway.
JO: Well (chuckles), not since I played, no. But we don't worry about speed so much. Speed is a result of athleticism and footwork, and it's great if he's got to make up speed. He made a couple of plays last year where you really saw it. I wasn't nearly as fast, but maybe I had really good angles. Ryan wants to exhaust all of his talent and it's my job to get him to do that. He runs a 4.3 and has a high ceiling, but if you want to reach that ceiling you've really got to work. And it's good because we've got guys like A.B. (Antonio Brown) out here who work in camp. I don't have to coach too hard, I just have to say look at those guys, look at Lawrence. Lawrence actually doesn't have a good 40 but he's very explosive, you know what I mean? All the other guys, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin and Jordan Zumwalt and Vince Williams, they all have something that they do well. Inside linebackers only use their top speed about 10 percent of the time.
Q: Overall, the group appears to be very deep.
JO: Yeah, and the thing is with this group we want to be the best so whoever's on the field you want to make all the tackles. That's what you want to do. You don't want to make some of the tackles, you make all of the tackles and that will be contagious to the other guys. It's great that the room is split up now, because it's now half the time for the inside guys, half the time for the outside guys. I feel spoiled because I've got six great guys who want to be great players and I just sit in the room with them for an hour and a half and talk football. You couldn't ask for anything more. We're trying to get them all better. If one guys makes the play, then I want to make the next play. Jordan got two picks in practice and now we all want to get a pick, things like that.