As most of you know by now, the Steelers took a gamble and lost.
The team needed to bring defensive lineman Steve McClendon up from the practice squad to add defensive line depth for the New Orleans Saints game. In order to do so, they had to release someone from the active roster to make room for him. They chose to waive rookie linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, hoping that he would clear the waiver wire, and then they would sign him to their practice squad. Unfortunately, Gibson didn’t clear waivers.
Two teams claimed him; the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. According to NFL rules, if more than one team claims a player who is placed on waivers, the team with the worst record will be granted the player’s rights. The 49ers have a worse record than the Eagles, so they received Gibson.
Gibson was the Steelers’ 4th round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Gibson had been a defensive end at Ohio State, but the Steelers planned to convert him to a 3-4 linebacker in Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme. Gibson had originally been recruited to Ohio State to play linebacker, so transitioning back to the position was not viewed to be much of a stretch for him.
During training camp this summer, Gibson immediately raised eyebrows. He showed a level of dominance during the Steelers’ famous “backs-on-backers” drills that was usually only demonstrated by James Harrison. Gibson was unstoppable, and fans and the media quickly took notice. He drew more raves during training camp than his fellow rookie Jason Worilds who had been drafted in the second round.
Some might argue that the Steelers really didn’t need to spend a 4th round draft pick on a linebacker, when they had already spent a second round pick on one. This argument would be flawed. Linebackers are the cornerstone of a 3-4 defense. Moreover, they are typically key playmakers on special teams. You can never have enough good linebackers (which might help explain why the Steelers took a third linebacker, Stevenson Sylvester, later in the same draft).
The Steelers two starting outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, are two of the best in the game. However, the Steelers had no depth behind them. Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior were planned to be the starting inside linebackers, and Keyaron Fox and Larry Foote were solid back-ups for each of those players. But the Steelers really didn’t have strong back-ups at the outside linebacker position. Thus, Worilds and Gibson were taken in the draft.
LB Thaddeus Gibson
Besides the need for back-ups, the Steelers also have an age problem on their defense, and injecting youth is critical if they want to maintain long-term dominance. We’ve talked plenty of times about the fact that Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel (the Steelers’ entire defensive line) are on the wrong side of 30. James Farrior and James Harrison are also on the wrong side of 30. That means that over 70% of the Steelers front 7 are over 30 years old. Whether we like it or not, all of their careers are nearing their end, and we need to be grooming their successors.
LaMarr Woodley is due to sign a new contract, and the Steelers didn’t tender an offer to him during the off-season. Some speculate that fear of potentially losing Woodley is another reason why the Steelers needed to go so heavy on linebackers during this past draft. Personally, I believe that once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, the Steelers will find a way to keep Woodley (even if that means putting the franchise tag on him).
The Steelers needed to inject more youth into their linebacker corps. And they did that. And as further evidence of what a great job Kevin Colbert did in finding young linebackers, all three of the rookie linebackers made the Steelers’ final 53-man roster.
Gibson’s absence won’t have any immediate impact on the Steelers. Moreover, fans will quickly forget about him. But his loss was big. He had more potential than most fans realize. He looked great in both training camp and preseason. He would have played a big part in the Steelers’ defense in the future.
Good luck with the 49ers, Thaddeus. Your skills and potential were both recognized and appreciated. It’s too bad that we won’t get to see you develop and reach your full potential while wearing black and gold.
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