Now we've reached we the core of any 3-4 defense, the linebackers. Ours are a very interesting group, with the aging veterans becoming less productive and our young guns showing good explosion and some serious talent. Once again, i will be Grading each player on their performance, progression, and just a bit of my own personal opinion on each player. Lets just get to it:
Daryl Washington, ILB
Daryl Washington is an absolute monster, it's as simple as that. He is the perfect example of what you want from a 3-4 ILB. He reads the play very well, reacts quickly, and then makes the play using his physical talents. While Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, and whoever is play nose tackle occupy the blockers, Washington quickly and aggressively attacks the play in the backfield on runs. He's no slouch on passing plays either. His two sacks show an ability to get to the quarterback, and he could easily have 3 picks this season (only one on his stat line, but a penalty negated one, and he dropped another that would have been a pick-6). I have nothing but praise for Washington this season so far this season, keep it up.
Mid-season Grade: A+
Paris Lenon, ILB
Lenon had an absolutely fantastic season last year, and has become a respected presence in the locker room, as he was voted as a defensive Captain. After playing so well last season one should expect some drop off, and that slight regression has shown. He can still get to the ball, by being in on a team-leading 50 tackles, and still does a serviceable job on passing plays. He doesn't have the speed anymore, that is necessary for an elite ILB. Lenon's age is starting to show, but he still provides good value and production from the ILB position. He hasn't had a great season, but he also hasn't had a bad season.
Mid-season Grade: B
Clark Haggans, LOLB
Haggans just can't get it done as an OLB at they level required for our defense. The outside linbackers are absolutely crucial in a 3-4 defense, and Haggans lacks the physical ability to beat a lineman 1-on-1 and then get to the quarterback. Speed is a huge factor in outside linebackers for our defensive scheme, and Haggans simply doesn't have that elite speed anymore. He knows what his assignments are on each play, so it is never an issue of being out of position, its an issue of ability to execute. His positioning alone has put him in position to make the plays that he has, but the explosion is not there anymore. His season hasn't been awful, but he hasn't impressed me at all. I will forever have images of him stopping and then not sacking Ben Roethlisberger.
Mid-season Grade: C
Joey Porter, ROLB
Am i the only one who really liked Porter on the sideline as a motivator more than as an alleged pass-rusher? I really like him in that role, but that maybe because he isn't on the field. Regardless, Joey Porter has had a very bad season. He, like Haggans, has regressed from the beast of a pass rusher he once was. It probably doesn't help that he is going up against the teams best pass-blocker, left tackle, on each play, but his lack of production is unacceptable from the ROLB spot on a 3-4 defense. Please Joey, just stay on the sideline.
Mid-season Grade: D+
Sam Acho, OLB
I really liked this pick in for us in the last draft. Acho has been praised for his intellegence and ability to learn our 3-4 defense so quickly. He actually won the William V. Campbell trophy in his the 2010 season with the Texas Longhorns as college football's top scholar. He quickly rose through the depth chart and has started the past 2 games in place of Porter. In his limited time on the field he already has 3 sacks and has provided good pressure along with Campbell. Pretty good start to a career for a 4th round draft pick.
Mid-season Grade: B+
O'Brien Schofield, OLB
The second year linebacker out of Wisconsin has the tools to play OLB in a 3-4 defense very well. His problem though is opposite of Acho. Schofield has been held back from the starting role because he hasn't been able to grasp Horton's 3-4 defense. When he is on the field he is an electric pass rusher, 1.5 sacks and a FF in limited playing time. Horton's scheme is apparently quite difficult to master quickly, but hopefully we will be seeing more Schofield as the season moves on. I had hoped he would get more playing time, but has proven to be effective while on the field.
Mid-season Grade: B
Stewart Bradley hasn't been on the field enough to warrant a grade, but he has been a disappointment so far, hopefully is only an issue of changing from a 4-3 MLB to a 3-4 ILB. If the problem is lack of ability, then ILB is probably a position we should address in free agency or the draft. So there you have it, our linebackers grades. Let me know what you think in the comments, and provide your own grades if you disagree.
Next Mid-season Report Card: CB, FS, SS