PITTSBURGH (AP) _ If Arthur Moats is being honest, he’s kind of surprised he’s here.
Not that the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker planned on leaving. But business is business. When Moats explored his options as free agency loomed in March, he figured he was heading south.
“We thought Atlanta was going to be the place,” Moats said.
Then coach Mike Tomlin sat Moats down and outlined a plan for 2015 and beyond. General manager Kevin Colbert weighed in too. It’s all Moats needed to hear. He practically sprinted to sign a three-year, $7.5-million contract that will keep him in Pittsburgh through 2017.
“Once I signed the deal, it was two feelings,” Moats said. “One was `Oh man, I finally got me a nice contract.’ The second one is like, time to prove I’m worth more.”
The mindset paid off handsomely for the energetic and versatile Moats. Moats spent most of 2014 shuttling between inside and outside linebacker following injuries to Jarvis Jones, James Harrison and rookie Ryan Shazier, picking up a career-high four sacks and a pivotal fumble recovery in Cincinnati that sparked a late run to the AFC North title.
Not bad for a former sixth-round pick who spent four seasons in Buffalo trying to create a niche. The 6-foot, 246-pound Moats lacks the ferocity of Harrison or the speed of Shazier but that’s hardly a problem. The Steelers need him to be disciplined as its 3-4 defense heads in a new direction under coordinator Keith Butler, who replaced Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau in January when LeBeau’s contract was not renewed.
One of Butler’s first decisions was to move the 27-year-old Moats exclusively to outside linebacker, where he will likely platoon with the 37-year-old Harrison on one side, and with Jones and first-round pick Bud Dupree on the other. The four of them will try to produce the kind of havoc on the edge the team has been missing in recent years as the defense aged.
Pittsburgh finished with just 33 sacks in 2014, 5 1/2 of them coming from Harrison after he ended a brief retirement to chip in when Jones broke his wrist in a Week 3 win over Carolina. That’s a far cry from the totals they put up while winning it all in 2005 (47) and 2008 (51). Tomlin brought up that number to Moats when he initially signed with the Steelers in 2014 and again during the meeting that led to Moats signing a new deal.
“More pressure, more sacks, that is what it’s about,” Moats said. “Whether we’re doing it from a rotational standpoint or it’s one guy getting them, it doesn’t matter. The fact is we’ve got to produce.”
Moats has become a mentor to younger players like Jones and Dupree. While the ever intense Harrison is the outside linebackers’ undisputed alpha male, Moats is the welcoming slightly older brother.
“He doesn’t make many mistakes, and he makes the big plays when he gets the chance,” Jones said. “He gives us a really good rotation at outside linebacker if we all can stay healthy.”
That hasn’t been an issue for Moats, who has missed all of three games in five seasons. Butler remains coy about what the depth chart might look like by the end of training camp. It probably doesn’t matter. In an effort to keep Harrison fresh and give Dupree time to learn Moats figures to see plenty of playing time.
“As long as I’m out there, I feel like I’m going to make something happen,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s the beginning, the middle, whenever.”
Moats’ best game of 2014 is also the one that propelled the Steelers to a division title. He sacked Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton twice and recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter that ignited a late three-touchdown surge in a 42-21 victory on Dec. 7, the first of four straight Pittsburgh wins to end the regular season.
It was enough to convince the Steelers to make a long-term commitment. Finally settled, Moats is ready to repay the team’s faith by keeping the chip on his shoulder that’s served him so well.
“It’s easy to come out here and overproduce when you’re on a minimum,” Moats said. “Now that you got a nice little check, you have to go out and show you’re worth much more than that.”
NOTES: Defensive end Clifton Geathers started a scuffle with several offensive linemen on Tuesday, including All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey. “It’s not something that you embrace, obviously, but it’s something that goes with the game,” Tomlin said. “It’s an opportunity to teach, more than anything, and that’s the way that I’ll approach it.”
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