Steelers give inside linebacker a makeover

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers went into the NFL draft with Lawrence Timmons and a lot of question marks at inside linebacker.

Now it might be one of the deepest positions on the team.

If Ryan Shazier is as good as advertised -- and it says here that the former Ohio State star will be another first-round hit for the Steelers -- he and Timmons fill form one of the better inside linebacker tandems in the NFL.

Vince Williams, who started 11 games last season as a rookie, provides quality depth. Undrafted free agent Terence Garvin, who played 15 games last season before hurting his knee, also returns, and he shined on special teams in 2013 while also logging some snaps on passing downs.

The Steelers added more depth at inside linebacker on the third day of the draft when they picked UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth round.

“Great competition at inside linebacker,” linebackers coach Keith Butler said, “we are going to have some.”

Sean Spence could also be part of the competition when the Steelers open training camp in late July.

Spence, who suffered a career-threatening knee injury in the Steelers' final preseason game in 2012, has made remarkable progress. The former third-round pick has been working with his teammates in the Steelers' offseason program after receiving medical clearance from the team doctors.

“He looks real good to me,” Butler said. “It's getting really close to being miraculous.”

Spence shredded his knee in his final preseason game as a rookie as he tore several ligaments and also suffered nerve damage. It is still too early to tell how much the Miami (Fla.) product will be able to contribute to the Steelers, especially since his game was predicated on speed.

But Spence will be a player to watch during the offseason practices, which start at the end of the month and conclude with a mandatory minicamp in the middle of June.

“We will see how the knee holds up when he starts hitting and things like that,” Butler said. “He is such an exceptional young man and you hope that it works out for him, and I think it will.”

If that happens it will be quite a bonus for the Steelers, who would further bolster themselves at inside linebacker if Spence is able to play again.

“In the coaching sessions that he's been able to take part in he looks great, he looks healthy,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “We hope to have him in the mix. We can never have enough good players at any one position.”