As usual, linebackers strong for Steelers

This is part two of a postional analysis of the Steelers heading into training camp: Today, the linebackers

While most non-Steelers fans would have a tough time naming any of the team's secondary or defensive linemen, you can bet that everyone knows who Pittsburgh's linebackers are.

They're big, they're bad and they'll likely be rolling through a quarterback near you.

Then again, that's nothing new for a team that has prided itself in putting one of the league's top linebacking units on the field year-in and year-out.

This year should be no different than others in that respect. In outside linebackers Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, and inside backer Kendrell Bell, the Steelers have three of the most talented players at their position in the league.

Porter and Gildon have combined for more than 20 sacks in each of the past two seasons. Bell, meanwhile, was a runaway winner of the NFL's defensive rookie of the year award in 2001.

But with Earl Holmes departure for Cleveland the Steelers will go into training camp looking for a new inside linebacker to line up next to Bell.

Veterans John Fiala - the team's special teams captain the past three seasons - and James Farrior - signed as a free agent from the New York Jets - will battle in training camp for that spot.

Farrior is the far superior athlete to Fiala and led the Jets in tackles last season while also picking off two passes. But the former first-round draft choice has never played on the inside before and may have trouble picking up the nuances of the position.

Returning from last season are outside linebackers Clark Haggans and Justin Kurpeikis.

Haggans is the team's No. 1 backup at outside linebacker and showed in a start late last season that he can be a factor if either Gildon or Porter are injured.

Kurpeikis, meanwhile, will be battling for a roster spot this season after making the team last season as a rookie free agent.

The team figures to keep at least eight linebackers this season, with rookie Larry Foote, a fourth-round draft choice out of Michigan who the coaching staff feels could play inside or outside, having one of those spots locked up.

That will leave a final roster spot up for grabs among Kurpeikis and rookie free agents James Harrison, Pernell Griffin, Jay Johnson and Will Bouton.

Griffin and Bouton are inside linebackers, while Harrison and Johnson play on the outside.

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