I thought that I would turn my attention to the Steelers’ Defensive Line for this week’s positional preview. While many of the names will stay the same in 2011, the infusion of youth over the last few years could prove to pay big dividends for the Steelers. I feel that this would be a fantastic opportunity to not only break down the two-deep depth chart along the D-Line, but also discuss what to expect from this interesting mix of young and old heading into the 2011 season.
“Big Snack” will be manning the Nose Tackle spot for the 11th season in a row. Snack’s bowling ball frame (6’1″ and 325), has allowed him to be the prototypical 0-Technique inside gap-clogging NT that has made the Steelers’ 3-4 Defense so effective against the run for the last decade. Hampton can still give the Steelers adequate production on 1st and 2nd downs, but at this point in his career a couple of negatives are starting to become evident. Hampton’s age has begun to show in the last couple of seasons (34 in early September) and his motor isn’t quite what it used to be. Consequently, Steeler Nation should be aware that Snack (who is in the 2nd of a 3 year contract with the Steelers) may only have a season or two of effective play left, and the Front Office may be unwilling to keep him after his contract expires. In addition, The 2012 Draft Class is stacked with some talented NT’s, and by April, Snack’s replacement for 2013 may very well be selected.
Chris Hoke should serve as Hampton’s backup once again. For close to a decade (and including most of the 2004 where he started when Hampton was hurt), Hoke has spelled Hampton when called upon with heady play, provided veteran leadership, done well on Special Teams, and been a consummate professional during his time with the Steelers. Nevertheless, Hoke is 35 years old and only signed through the 2011 season. The Front Office appears to consider that that Hoke may be on his proverbial “last legs.” Thus, if Colbert elects to go with a NT in Round 1 or Round 2 next April, this could very well be Hoke’s last season with the Steelers.
Fear the Beard, Respect Keisel! Brett Keisel enjoyed a career year with the Steelers. His 33 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 pass deflections, and 1 INT helped to earn him a Pro Bowl nod to in 2010. “The Diesel” will man the Right Defensive End position in the Steelers’ base set for the 6th season in a row since taking over for Kemo von Oelhoffen in 2006. At 6’5″ 285, Keisel brings the size as well as the crafty veteran savvy that make him a valuable part of the Steelers’ defense as a 5-Technique DE. While not as talented in terms of raw ability as an Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood, or Rookie Cameron Heyward, Keisel’s knowledge of the game, efficient technique, and solid all-around ability have made him a quality starter for the Steelers over the last half decade. Brett is signed through the 2013 season, and barring injury should be able to play through his contract and give Pittsburgh at least 3 more years of solid football.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP