I know, I know. Dom is back yet again with another “The Defense is Falling Apart” post. But hey, the 2012 season is done, I’m “NPC’s” resident “Draft Guy,” and the Steelers’ Defense has been for lack of a better phrase “Falling Apart” over the last two years. Like it or not readers, but the task of fixing and rebuilding the Defense will likely be G.M. Kevin Colbert’s top priority this offseason.
So what/who should the Steelers be looking for over the next few months as Draft Weekend nears? Well, if you watched any of Pittsburgh’s games this past year, it was pretty evident that significant amounts of help seemed to be needed in the “Pass-Covering Linebacker” and “Pass-Rushing” departments. The Defense appeared to be consistently vulnerable in pass situation sub-packages, and just did not seem to have the types of versatile (or healthy) Front-7 personnel who could rush the passer or cover the opposing pass-catchers with any regularity.
Over the next few seasons, the Steelers will be in the market to find some talented play-makers to step in and help to fix these aforementioned problems. Luckily for Colbert & Co., there are two draft eligible players from Brigham Young University with “Swiss-Army-Knife-like” versatile skill-sets who could very well be on the franchise’s radar this offseason: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
Kyle Van Noy
Over his first two seasons at Brigham Young (26 games overall), Van Noy worked his way into the Cougars’ starting rotation and put up a combined 103 Tackles, 22.5 TFL’s, 9.0 Sacks, 5 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries, and 3 Interceptions.
This past year though, Van Noy improved upon his previous two seasons and emerged as one of B.Y.U.’s top playmakers on Defense. Overall, Van Noy recorded 53 Tackles and an incredible 22.0 TFL’s and 13.0 Sacks from his Outside Linebacker position in the Cougars’ 3-4 scheme. In addition to those gaudy stats, Van Noy emerged as a “Takeaway Machine” this past year as well and was able to force 6 Fumbles, recover 1, and record 2 Interceptions.
Unfortunately for me and the rest of the San Diego State Aztecs’ fanbase, the Redshirt Junior saved his best performance of the season for last as Van Noy made 8 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 3.5 TFL’s, Blocked a Punt, Forced a Fumble in the End Zone which he subsequently recovered for a go-ahead Touchdown, and snagged a Pick-6 to put the game out of reach as well as the Cougars scored 20 points in the 4th Quarter to win the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl 23-6.
At 6’3” 235 lbs., Van Noy possesses the appropriate size and speed to mix it up competitively in the running game from an Inside Linebacker position, but also stick and stay adequately with Tight Ends in the passing game. Best of all however was the fact that Van Noy illustrated over his collegiate career that he could bring the heat off of the edge and create Turnovers. To me, a “Swiss-Army Knife” and sub-package weapon like Van Noy could be just what Pittsburgh’s Defense currently lacks, and a player who could emerge as a solid “Mack/Weakside” Linebacker in the future as Lawrence Timmons will likely move to the “Buck/Strongside” position later in his career.
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah
If you have not heard about Ziggy Ansah’s journey to B.Y.U. and football fame, then I highly suggest you readers take a gander at this article from CNNSI.com (Van Noy is mentioned in it as well). The abridged version is that Ansah, whose first love was basketball, came over to Provo from Accra, Ghana with a B.Y.U. student on a Mormon Mission who baptized him into the religion. Ansah then walked-on the Cougars’ Track & Field Team (he ran a 21.9 in the 200 Meter Dash) after he failed to make the Basketball team, and eventually walked-on to the school’s football team in 2010 with little to zero knowledge about the game at the time.
After two seasons (18 Games) worth of development as a backup, Ansah came out of nowhere this past year, and like Van Noy, emerged as one of the more dominant players on Brigham Young’s Defense. Ansah recorded 62 Tackles, 13.0 TFL’s, and 4.5 Sacks during his first year as a starter and broke up 9 passes and made 1 Interception over the 2012 campaign. And like Van Noy, Ansah had a monster Poinsettia Bowl as he recorded 5 Tackles, forced 1 Fumble, and even recorded his lone Interception on the year.
In terms of where the Defensive End would fit in the N.F.L., if Ansah proves he indeed possesses the appropriate strength and gap discipline, he could be used along the line of scrimmage with his hand in the dirt to spell the veterans along the Defensive Line. In the event he develops quickly or is needed to rush the passer early, Ansah could even fill in as a “light” 5-Technique in 3rd & Medium situations to help free up the Outside Linebackers to do their work, or even rush off of the edge standing up as an Outside Linebacker.
Although it might take two to three seasons before Ansah would be able to start on Pittsburgh’s Defense, he would be an athletic sub-package option for Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau to insert and wreak havoc off the edges while he grows into a position and learns the Defensive scheme. While Ansah might be raw in terms of his skill-set and his overall lack of experience playing football, there are just some things which can’t be taught, like a 6’6″ 270 lb. frame, and a high “talent/athleticism ceiling” which could entice the Steelers to select him.
At this point, Van Noy has yet to declare for the Draft, and still has one year of eligibility remaining. Thus, he does have the option to return to school to improve his draft stock next year. Yet after his Poinsettia Bowl performance, people outside of the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast have not only taken notice of what he has done over his three year career with the Cougars, but also seen the type of versatile “matchup-nightmare” he has the potential to be at the next level. If the Steelers have a chance to take the underclassman in the early stages of Round 2, then I would be totally down if Colbert & Co. passed on a Kevin Ogletree prospect in Round 1 and addressed another area if they intended on taking Van Noy.
Overall, I would be a bit more weary if the Steelers selected Ansah simply because of his limited football background in addition to Pittsburgh’s need for immediate help at the Outside Linebacker and Defensive End positions. Do not get me wrong, Ansah has the tools to succeed, but it might take him longer to adjust to the speed of the pro game and longer to inevitably develop. Nevertheless, pass-rusher would definitely be worth a late-1st Round selection, but it would be difficult for the Steelers to take him with more polished Defensive players (especially pass-rushers) likely on the board between #14 and #17 (Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Dion Jordan, and Alex Okafor come to mind).
Since this franchise barely “makes it hail” during Free Agency, the spotlight will be on the Draft. I sincerely hope that Colbert & Co. can find the appropriate pieces to the rapidly calcifying and under-performing Defensive puzzle in April. Otherwise, 2013 and 2014 could be even bigger disasters than 2012 on the Defensive side of the ball.