Enforcing and dominating the Defensive Line is certainly a Steeler tradition, an annual rite of passage. Expectations are nothing short of dominance at these positions in the predominant 3-4 philosophy of Pittsburgh’s vaunted Defenses; expectations in 2013 are nothing short of “hopeful”. Given to age or to accident or to unfulfilled potential, individually and collectively the Steeler Defensive Line needs to make itself the bad word and the bad boys of the AFC North.
PICK A POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINE
It has long been understood that Steeler Defensive success begins upfront; a ground attack has been poor game planning by any up and comer Offensive Coordinator foolish enough to be willing to risk their job trying it. Their reputation is safe, however – no one runs the ball on the Pittsburgh Steelers, anyway. Lately, though, the Steelers simply haven’t gotten the run-stuffing impossibility up the middle and the terrifying pressure from the Ends. In 2013 a return to both is an absolute necessity, but where does Pittsburgh stand in this position heading into today’s NFL DRAFT?
LINE OF DEMARCATION
This is a short cast of characters, so let’s make short work of it:
- (DE) Brett Keisel: Keisel “the Diesel” is the definitive leader of this group, and one of the top, vocal team leaders as well. As with every Steeler story last season, sans injury Brett played very solidly, and at times extremely well. How much gas does Diesel have left in the tank? I’m not sure, but he will be tractoring the right side Defensive End position for Pittsburgh in 2013. I would expect nothing short of a revved up motor and extremely solid play from Keisel and his beard. He will be spotted plenty by up-and-coming Heyward, so Brett’s effectiveness shouldn’t wane on account of tired legs.
- (DE) Ziggy Hood: cutting to the chase, Hood needs to either play himself into, or out of a Steeler uniform. On the entire roster sheet, no player has more to prove currently than Hood. The former #1 pick in 2009 out of Missouri, Ziggy has shown very real commitment to his strength and conditioning; now we need him to “strength & condition” opposing offensive linemen. Hood needs to play Pro Bowl caliber football this year. Period. Show us some love, Ziggy; Steeler Nation is waiting to give you some back.
- (DE) Cameron Heyward: I’ve heard a lot of complaints that Heyward (also a #1 investment in 2011 out of Ohio State) has not lived up to his draft value. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment, as firstly we simply don’t “plug & play” draftees in LeBeau’s system of maturation, and further he’s had Brett Keisel playing in front of him well enough for Cam to not see much of the field. This upcoming season, that will change dramatically. Keisel needs to keep his legs fresh, and I personally feel Heyward is going to be a haymaker in Pittsburgh – he’s got a nasty streak to him that is coveted in Steel Town, and is champing at the bit to start at DE. In my estimation, it will be hard to keep Cam’s brutishness out of the lineup. As much as I love Keisel, I can actually see Heyward moved up the Depth Chart to Starter by the last 3rd of the upcoming season. If Hood doesn’t dominate, he will see it in spite of Keisel’s age.
- (NT) Steve McLendon: the Coaching Staff has long been high on Steve’s potential; from the snaps he’s gotten, in my opinion he’s played better than Hampton against the run, and brings something else to the position “Big Snack” does not – McLendon can run down a Quarterback. It’s Steve’s job full-time this year, and I think Steeler Nation is going to be pleased with the difference he makes.
- (NT) Almeda Ta’amu: I almost inserted a tasteless analogy here, but I can’t do it. Will this kid be on the team given all the particulars? I think he will, and he will have a lot to take out in frustration in a perfect medium for it. This is pure speculation, but something tells me that Almeda turns it around (everywhere) – I’m really going to put this one on the Coaching Staff, too. Ta’amu needs to define himself professionally and that is up to him directly, but I also want to see this team “invest in their investment” and work hard to make this 4th Round Pick from 2012 mean something in 2013, and beyond.