Defensive Linemen (6)
Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel, Al Woods, Cameron Heyward, Alameda Ta’amu
In terms of their defensive line, the starting rotation is basically set in stone. Ziggy Hood should occupy the left side for the third consecutive season, Brett Keisel should occupy the right side for eighth year in a row, and Steve McLendon will finally have the chance to take over for “Big Snack” Hampton after a three-year apprenticeship at nose tackle. The two main backups at defensive end should be occupied by Cameron Heyward and the versatile Al Woods.
Behind McLendon, I’m waffling between the two Polynesian big men, Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo. Ta’amu definitely played better than Fangupo in Saturday’s game, but his off-field issues are still fresh in everybody’s minds. I’ll probably go back and forth between the two before the season begins, but my money is on the former Washington Husky.
LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Adrian Robinson, Chris Carter, Vince Williams, Marshall McFadden
As far as the inside linebackers are concerned, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons are firmly entrenched as the starters. Foote is the most experienced and will man the strongside, while Timmons is on the verge of a Pro Bowl berth on the weakside. Behind them is Stevenson Sylvester and a group of hungry yet inexperienced players. The competition for a roster spot should be heated between Vince Williams, Kion Wilson, Brian Rolle, Terance Garvin, and Marshall McFadden. I would give the edge to McFadden, who has improved since he signed with the team late in 2011, and Williams who has the ability to be a terrific special teams player before he begins his career at linebacker.
Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, Terry Hawthorne
Like the defensive line, the top three on the cornerback depth chart are locked into place barring injuries. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen should start, and for some inexplicable reason William Gay was brought back to town. Behind the top three though, there is room for movement for some of Pittsburgh’s backups. Unfortunately, most of the Steelers’ reserve cornerbacks are dealing with health issues. I think that Josh Victorian’s experience should give him a leg up over his competition, Curtis Brown’s ability to cover on special teams, and Terry Hawthorne might round out the final spot if they elect to go six-deep at the position.
Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas
The Steelers appear set to trot out the veteran duo of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu once again this fall. I can’t say I blame the coaching staff as the veterans might have lost a step or two over the last few seasons. But both are nevertheless the best and most experienced options for the team to turn to this fall. The biggest reason why I believe that the Steelers will only carry four safeties has to do with the fact that both Golden and Thomas can contribute in sub-packages as slot cornerbacks. A roster spot could be needed elsewhere (linebacker, offensive line, etc.), and if Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith cannot perform well on special teams then the Steelers would be wise to only carry the two youngsters behind Polamalu and Clark for the near future.