Bare cupboard

The Steelers are going through minicamp with a no-name group of linebackers, but coordinator Dick LeBeau won't declare it a state of emergency.

PITTSBURGH – It's a position that's produced 109.5 sacks this decade and been the heart of an elite NFL defense, but the Steelers' starting outside linebackers today have four career sacks in eight career starts, all courtesy of James Harrison.

It appears to be an emergency situation for the Steelers.

"I think it's one of those situations that will really be beneficial in the end," countered defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "These young guys are getting a lot of snaps outside and that's good. It's a great opportunity for us and for them."

Both of last year's starting outside linebackers are gone, one for good and the other until a family crisis passes.

Harrison replaces the departed Porter at OLB. (Photo: AP)

Joey Porter has been replaced by Harrison, the super sub of the last two seasons, but since the super sub is now the starter, depth at outside linebacker has become scary thin.

Clark Haggans, who'll be in the final year of his contract when he does return, has been replaced at minicamp by inside backup Rian Wallace, he of one tackle in two NFL seasons.

The only experienced outside backup is Arnold Harrison, and he's still recovering from a late October ACL tear. His replacement last year, Chad Brown, also ended the season on IR and has not been asked back. In Brown's place, the Steelers added Marcello Church, who's in his first NFL camp.

LeBeau has one other option outside, but has yet to use 280-pound defensive end Brett Keisel at linebacker, as Keisel had hoped coming into minicamp.

"He's always been a guy who can play outside backer for us in case we get in an injury situation during a Sunday afternoon," LeBeau said. "We've had him take a lot of snaps on Fridays at that outside backer, but he's never had to do it in a game. And I kind of like the way he plays defensive end, so we're going to keep him right there.

"He still has that capability in a pinch. If we needed him to go in there and play outside backer he can do it and that's a real plus for us."

It appears that LeBeau would only use Keisel outside during an in-game emergency, as opposed to a new jumbo package as Keisel had hoped.

"Well, we might see a little bit of that too," LeBeau said. "But it wouldn't be on first or second down."

On first or second down, once the season begins, it'll be Haggans and James Harrison and a prayer for their good health. But Arnold Harrison warns that he'll soon bust out of his frustrating predicament.

"When you get the opportunity to come out for a new coaching staff, and you're running the same defense, and you've got guys out there who aren't nowhere near as experienced as I am, of course I would love, relish, the chance to get out there and mix it up and talk trash to my teammates," Harrison said. "But you know what? That's all a learning experience. Perseverance is also a lesson learned. So I get to sit back and watch and learn and get a feel for the coaches. When I hit the ground running, my first impression's going to be a big one."

Perhaps it's a plus that the coaching staff gets a long look at their barren cupboard a week before the draft. LeBeau, though, says he's prepared to play with what he has … and doesn't have.

"I don't think anything that happens out here is going to affect the draft," LeBeau said. "The draft is definitely a longer range situation than what you're talking about in even a year."

To read the transcripts of the interviews used for this story, click here.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nPITTSBURGH – It's a position that's produced 109.5 sacks this decade and been the heart of an elite NFL defense, but the Steelers' starting outside linebackers today have four career sacks in eight career starts, all courtesy of James Harrison.\r\n

It appears to be an emergency situation for the Steelers.\r\n

\"I think it's one of those situations that will really be beneficial in the end,\" countered defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. \"These young guys are getting a lot of snaps outside and that's good. It's a great opportunity for us and for them.\"\r\n

Both of last year's starting outside linebackers are gone, one for good and the other until a family crisis passes. \r\n\r\n

\r\n
Harrison replaces the departed Porter at OLB. (Photo: AP)
\r\n\r\n

Joey Porter has been replaced by Harrison, the super sub of the last two seasons, but since the super sub is now the starter, depth at outside linebacker has become scary thin.\r\n

Clark Haggans, who'll be in the final year of his contract when he does return, has been replaced at minicamp by inside backup Rian Wallace, he of one tackle in two NFL seasons. \r\n

The only experienced outside backup is Arnold Harrison, and he's still recovering from a late October ACL tear. His replacement last year, Chad Brown, also ended the season on IR and has not been asked back. In Brown's place, the Steelers added Marcello Church, who's in his first NFL camp.\r\n

LeBeau has one other option outside, but has yet to use 280-pound defensive end Brett Keisel at linebacker, as Keisel had hoped coming into minicamp.\r\n

\"He's always been a guy who can play outside backer for us in case we get in an injury situation during a Sunday afternoon,\" LeBeau said. \"We've had him take a lot of snaps on Fridays at that outside backer, but he's never had to do it in a game. And I kind of like the way he plays defensive end, so we're going to keep him right there. \r\n

\"He still has that capability in a pinch. If we needed him to go in there and play outside backer he can do it and that's a real plus for us.\"\r\n

It appears that LeBeau would only use Keisel outside during an in-game emergency, as opposed to a new jumbo package as Keisel had hoped.\r\n

\"Well, we might see a little bit of that too,\" LeBeau said. \"But it wouldn't be on first or second down.\"\r\n

On first or second down, once the season begins, it'll be Haggans and James Harrison and a prayer for their good health. But Arnold Harrison warns that he'll soon bust out of his frustrating predicament.\r\n

\"When you get the opportunity to come out for a new coaching staff, and you're running the same defense, and you've got guys out there who aren't nowhere near as experienced as I am, of course I would love, relish, the chance to get out there and mix it up and talk trash to my teammates,\" Harrison said. \"But you know what? That's all a learning experience. Perseverance is also a lesson learned. So I get to sit back and watch and learn and get a feel for the coaches. When I hit the ground running, my first impression's going to be a big one.\"\r\n

Perhaps it's a plus that the coaching staff gets a long look at their barren cupboard a week before the draft. LeBeau, though, says he's prepared to play with what he has … and doesn't have. \r\n

\"I don't think anything that happens out here is going to affect the draft,\" LeBeau said. \"The draft is definitely a longer range situation than what you're talking about in even a year.\"\r\n\r\n

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