I know that all of you are stoked on Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Patriots. Fair enough, this is a tremendous A.F.C. rivalry and the game will most likely end up in an exciting shootout in my expert opinion. As excited as I am for the game on Sunday, there is a game being played today that I will be watching with great interest and a close eye as well. Why you may ask? Well there is a guy playing in the Arizona vs. Washington game which I believe that the Steelers should (and likely will) be targeting in April’s upcoming Draft: University of Washington Nose Tackle Alameda Ta’amu. So I figured for today’s article that I would break down the status of the Steelers’ NT position, explain why it is a position of need, and finally discuss the merits of Ta’amu and why the Steelers should be looking at him come April. Hit that “Continue Reading” button if I’ve peaked your interest:
The State of the Steelers’ NT Situation Now
To put it bluntly, the Steelers are kind of in dire straits now with their situation at NT. It’s sad, but it’s finally happened, because the run of “Big Snack” Casey Hampton’s career as the dominant immovable object in Pittsburgh’s Defense is essentially over with. It has been 11 solid if not under-the-radar fantastic seasons put out by Hampton in a Steeler uniform, and all of us in “Steeler Nation” should look back on his tenure and give thanks that such a solid yet unselfish player suited up for our favorite team. Sadly, injuries and age have started to catch up with the 34 year old “Snack,” and like all football players they simply get old. And when these guys get old, their performance starts to slip causing their effectiveness to go out the proverbial window.
Casey can probably squeeze one more season out in 2012 and pitch in for one last run at a title. Thankfully for the Steelers, it is Hampton’s contract year and he will be forced to at least give it his all to stick with the team. Unfortunately for “Snack,” the F.O. will likely be unwilling to bring him back at more than a reduced rate. To make matters more tenuous for the boys in Black and Gold, backup NT and savvy yet dependable 35 year old veteran Chris Hoke has also begun to be slowed by injuries and he isn’t getting any younger as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the current starting NT Steve McLendon is a great guy for the Steelers to have as a backup along the Defensive Line. Steve is a valuable player for Pittsburgh to have on their roster if any of the starters along the Line goes down. Yet McLendon is a backup player and the Steelers should be on the lookout for somebody more talented to pair with Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward for seasons to come. This is why in April’s upcoming Draft that I feel the final missing piece to a budding successful D-Line could fall into place with the drafting of Ta’amu as the NT of the future.
Stats and Scheme Don’t Lie
The Steelers are ranked 19th in the League by allowing 4.5 yards per rush and they are ranked 12th in the League by allowing 107.1 yards rushing per game. Heck there was a time in the not so distant past where they didn’t allow a 100 yard rusher in any game during the regular and post season! Their lack of effectiveness at dominating the Point of Attack 7 games into the season is worrisome and something must be done to make sure that this is not a recurring problem. I personally feel that these stats are partly indicative of the lack of consistently effective play at the NT position so far this season as the entire D-Line has had their own troubles and growing pains in 2011.
So why does the NT position need an upgrade? Well, the NT position is the epicenter of the 3-4 Defense and the position that everything flows from when the Defense is trying to stop the opposition’s running game. The ILB’s play better when the middle is clogged and the Point of Attack is dominated by the 0-technique player by himself. Imagine Timmons and Farrior’s replacement running free to the ball on almost every play and striking absolute fear into shrimps like Ray Rice and Danny Woodhead. With the ILB’s dominating and flying to the ball on the ground, everybody wins on the Steeler Defense. Moreover, if the NT creates any sort of pressure on passing plays and helps to collapse the pocket, it’s downright gravy. Thus, the Steelers need to be vigilant in terms of finding and grooming “Snack’s” replacement. I and many others in “Steeler Nation” feel that Ta’amu can fill the void at NT and make these sort of things happen.
The Case for Alameda
For lack of a better term, Ta’amu is a “stud” when considering Defensive Line and NT prospects. He has the perfect frame to play the position (6’3″ and 337 lbs.) and has been a starter over almost his entire college career (29 games started and played in 37 heading into 2011 season). While he passes the eye test, Ta’amu also has logged some pretty impressive stats and performed very well over his college career as indicated by his profile on the University of Washington sports website. According to ESPN.com, so far in 2011 Alameda has made 18 tackles, accumulated 1.5 QB sacks, and racked up 3.5 tackles for loss in Washington’s 7 games. These solid 2011 numbers will be added to Ta’amu’s already terrific career stat line which includes: 79 tackles, 4 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss. It come as no surprise to me that after analyzing his stats, and then pouring over numerous amounts of draft websites and prospect analysis rankings that Ta’amu is pretty much the consensus #1 0-technique NT in the 2012 Draft Class.
In addition to analyzing Alameda from a statistical and consensus scouting perspective, I’ve seen Ta’amu play about a dozen times over the last few seasons. Living in Tucson on and off for the past 8 years, I have been able to watch all of the University of Arizona’s football games plus a wealth of Pac-10 games each and every Saturday during football season as well. From what I have seen, for somebody his size, Ta’amu is one athletic s.o.b. in addition to being an absolute clog in the middle that O-Lines must pay attention to every week. According to the University of Washington sports website, Ta’amu registered his season high in tackles last year against Oregon and their stellar and quick spread attack with 7. If you watched the Holiday Bowl from last season you could really tell how good Ta’amu in fact was. Alameda and the rest of the Washington Defense really put the hurting on Nebraska’s Offensive Line and essentially won the game for their team. Moreover, the competition Ta’amu has faced in the Pac-12 and will face for the rest of his college career in the Conference is downright top-notch, so it’s likely the guy is ready for the big stage as well. To me, all signs point to Alameda being a downright fantastic fit for the Steelers.
Look, I understand that there are many of you that are clamoring for the Steelers and Colbert to go in the direction of the DB and OL positions when April comes around. I honestly won’t disagree with you. Yet if Ta’amu is the player that I and many feel that he can be, the Steelers will have arguably the best 3-4 Defensive Line for another 8-12 seasons with Hood, Heyward, and possibly Ta’amu. I know my eyes will be fixated on the trenches and how Ta’amu does tonight against the ‘Cats. The game is at 10:30 EST, (7:30 here out West) and if you can find a way to watch it and are a member of Steeler Nation, do yourself a favor and tune in to the game.
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