PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.
Our sixth look is at the most critical position when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.
Who is gone: LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers released Woodley in March, and the outside linebacker signed a two-year contract with the Raiders. The Steelers receive more than $8 million in salary-cap savings from the Woodley release, which becomes available after June 1.
Returning starters: Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Worilds, who looked like the odd man out at outside linebacker after losing his starting job to Jones at the beginning of last season, emerged as the Steelers’ best pass-rusher in 2013. He recorded eight sacks and shined at left outside linebacker after taking over for the injured Woodley. Jones made eight starts at right outside linebacker as a rookie, but managed just one sack. The 2013 first-round pick struggled with the speed of the game while also learning the Steelers’ defense on the job.
Most significant addition: Joey Porter. The fiery, emotional leader of the team that made an improbable run to the 2005 Super Bowl title has re-joined the Steelers as a defensive assistant. He should help Jones make a big jump in the latter’s second season and add some of his patented swagger to a defense that could use some of it.
Most significant loss: Woodley. A string of nagging injuries derailed his final three seasons in Pittsburgh -- and ultimately led to the Steelers releasing Woodley, whom they had made the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history in 2011. Woodley’s 57 ½ sacks are seventh among the Steelers’ all-time sack leaders.
On outside looking in: Howard Jones. Perhaps the most intriguing of the undrafted free agents the Steelers signed after the draft, he has good measurables and the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder recorded a school-record 35 sacks at Shepherd University in West Virginia. But is he ready to seriously push for a spot on the 53-man roster after playing at a Division II school? Jones might need some seasoning on the practice squad before making such a jump.
Hidden number: Three players in the NFL had more sacks than the 14 combined sacks the Steelers received from their outside linebackers last season.
Outlook: This is one position that has to scare the Steelers a little, because success from it is dependent on several things, including Worilds and Jones staying relatively healthy and the latter coming into his own in his second NFL season. Moats has the capability of playing inside, but with the Steelers’ depth there he projects as the No. 3 outside linebacker. Sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt is also a candidate to provide depth at outside linebacker. James Harrison has said he wants to return to Pittsburgh, so the five-time Pro Bowler could be an option closer to training camp or during preseason practice if the Steelers need help at outside linebacker.