Linebacker unit not what it used to be

James Farrior had a career year in 2004. As for the rest of the Steelers' linebackers, compared to what the team has gotten out of the position in year's past, 2004 had to be considered somewhat disappointing.

Quite simply, this current Steelers' linebacking group needs to do more in 2005 if the team is to make the playoffs again in 2005. The Steelers ask a lot of their linebackers and they expect them to produce.

Joey Porter and Clark Haggans combined for just 13 sacks, a total the Steelers are accustomed to getting out of just one of their outside linebackers. And the now-departed Kendrell Bell never was a factor, playing a part-time role in just three games.

But the emergence of Farrior, who finished second in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting, helped offset those disappointments.

Farrior had 94 tackles, four interceptions and three sacks, establishing himself as one of the top inside linebackers in the game. And with Bell sidelined, Larry Foote stepped in and was also solid, if unspectacular, ringing up 69 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

Those two, along with Porter and Haggans, return this season to form the Steelers' starting foursome.

Behind them, however, there are plenty of question marks.

Former second round draft pick Alonzo Jackson enters his third training camp needing to make an impact or be sent packing after being beaten out for the top backup job last season by unheralded James Harrison.

Harrison enters training camp as the only backup linebacker who can feel safe about his job. An outstanding special teams player, Harrison will also see time at inside linebacker, another spot the team is thin at. The Steelers are that thin at the position.

Clint Kriewaldt wasn't the force he had been in previous seasons on special teams, but had a sore knee throughout the year. He needs to show he can still get the job done or he could be pushed aside by Rian Wallace, a fifth-round pick in this year's draft.

Wallace was a tackling machine at Temple and it will be interesting to see how quickly he picks up the intricacies of the team's defense.

Ronald Stanley, an undrafted rookie from Michigan State, will also be vying for a spot inside.

Joining the battle for the backup outside linebacker positions along with Harrison and the disappointing Jackson will be Dedrick Roper and rookies Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison.

Roper was with the Steelers in training camp last season and performed well in the preseason games, but spent the 2004 season on the practice squad. Another strong performance could push Jackson aside.

Frazier will be making the transition from college defensive end and must show he can not only rush the passer, but drop into coverage as well, to have a shot at earning a roster spot.

Harrison, meanwhile, played outside in Georgia's 4-3 defense, but could play inside or outside in the Steelers' defense.

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