Keep An Eye On 'Big Safety'

Terence Garvin (LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler sees a future starter in one of his young backup linebackers.

When Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said this past spring that "We got inside linebackers out the butt," he was certainly thinking of the team's first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier, who'll team with Lawrence Timmons as the starting duo inside.

And, of course, Butler was talking about Vince Williams, the second-year buck who filled in as a rookie last year after Larry Foote went down.

Butler's also thinking about his new toy, Sean Spence, who appears to be on his way to completing a two-year recovery from a knee injury that included severe nerve damage.

But there's another inside linebacker Butler had in mind, and it's not sixth-round draft pick Jordan Zumwalt -- at least not yet.

"I think you've got to watch the guy we call 'Big Safety,' Terence Garvin," Butler said. "Terence Garvin one day will be a starter in this league. That's my opinion.

"We're so loaded inside we've got to find a place for him, so we're playing him outside and inside, playing him both sides to see if he can learn both. You always have to have a swing guy. Stevenson Sylvester was always the swing guy. Now it's 'Big Safety,' or maybe Zumwalt. We'll see."

Garvin of course is the former college safety-turned-outside linebacker who compiled the rare double-double of 10 1/2 sacks and 11 passes defensed as a three-year starter at West Virginia University. He wasn't drafted, or even signed until two weeks after the draft, and even then it was merely as a tryout player for the Steelers' May rookie camp.

The 6-3, 221-pounder fared well at that tryout, continued to play well in the spring, before showing an aptitude for special-teams play at training camp. He made the squad, made 9 special-teams tackles, and even started the Dec. 22 game at Green Bay at inside linebacker in place of Williams. Garvin made his only defensive tackle of the season in that game and an injured knee kept him out of the finale, the only game he missed.

Yet, Garvin wasn't all that confident about his place on the team this season, so he was happy to hear about the comment from Butler.

"Oh, man, he didn't tell me that," said Garvin, who was asked if Butler is ever complimentary to young players.

"I feel in this world you've just got to work," Garvin said. "You can't really worry about different things like that. But that is a good little compliment. I appreciate that. I work hard every day trying to get to that point."

Garvin played both inside and outside linebacker in the spring and appears headed for the backup swing position held the past few years by Sylvester.

"It's tough at first," Garvin said. "But I appreciate it because I feel I learn different things about it. I feel you're forced to learn everything, because you have to learn outside but you have to learn the inside, so you've got to know what different people are doing. That helps you out as a whole."

Does Garvin like the nickname "Big Safety"?

"Yeah, it's better than 'Little Linebacker,'" he said. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin will call me that every now and then. He'll call me 'the Little Linebacker.' I also get 'Big Safety.' I'd rather be called 'Big Safety' than 'Little Linebacker' any day."

As long as they don't call him late for work.

"I've just been working every day trying to get better," Garvin said. "I'll watch film every day. I'll watch L.T., I'll watch Spence. I'll watch everyone in front of me, just how they do things, how they handle their business, how they move staying square, just everything. You never know when it will pay off."

According to his coach, that pay off is coming.

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