Following up with my previous article on who deserved to stick around on the offense last week, I now bring you who I think has deserved to stick around on the defense. While the win against Buffalo was nice, the reality is the Steelers are 3-6, with the chances of playing in January dwindling. Unfortunately for the Steelers, their schedule is only going to get harder, as they face the NFC North division leaders right now in the Lions, and they also will face the Bengals again, as well as the Packers. Even the Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins will be no easy task. With the margin for error very small, losing one game at the most, each player will be auditioning for a job in 2014 with the Steelers arrow pointed down.
Below I have compiled a list by position of players that are making a case to be kept, and a list of players that look to be expendable.
Keep: Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon
Expendable: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Hebron Fangupo, Al Woods
Cameron Heyward has been excellent since being promoted to the starting lineup. With two sacks in the past two games, Heyward has looked like the first round draft pick the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him 31st overall in 2011. Steve McLendon hasn’t been Casey Hampton in the run departement, but then again, who is? Signed to a three-year extension this past offseason, the Steelers seem to have a plan for McLendon, and he has shown flashes at times. Whether it be at end or nose guard, McLendon provides great versatility that is needed with a team lacking decent defensive lineman.
Keisel hasn’t played awful this year, but unfortunately, he is not the Keisel that has manned the right side of the line for several Super Bowls. With his contract set to expire at the end of the 2013 season, the Steelers may look to move on from Keisel, who would get nothing more than a one-year deal at the age of 35. He may come back due to lack of depth, but don’t count on it. Sadly, it is time to move on from ‘Da Beard.
Ziggy Hood on the other hand has found little success in Pittsburgh. Drafted out of Missouri in the first round of the 2009 draft, Ziggy Hood has been nothing short of a major disappointment. Yes, he started in 2011 and 2012, but that was due to pedigree and lack of depth, not due to performance. After being demoted, the writing on the wall was all but clear: Ziggy Hood’s days in Pittsburgh are numbered. With his deal up after the 2013 season, there is a good chance that the Steelers may move on from their bust of a draft pick. Like Keisel, he may be re-signed due to lack of depth, but he has done nothing to show he deserves to be brought back.
In my opinion, Al Woods and Hebron Fangupo are fairly expendable, but again, due to lack of depth, they could be brought back since they are familiar with the Steelers defense.
Keep: Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams
Expendable: Terrence Garvin, Stevenson Sylvester, Kion Wilson
First of all, I did not include Larry Foote or Sean Spence because I have not been including practice squad members, or those on I.R. But, both are under contract in 2014, and since they haven’t been able to play themselves out of a job, they should be expected back at first. But, in their absence, young Vince Williams has filled in admirably. Improving each week, Williams has looked like a pretty smart addition out of Florida State. Who knows what the future holds, but if he can continue to develop, it will be an interesting battle between Williams, Foote and Spence next season.
Speaking of Florida State, Timmons has been nothing but spectacular this season. While sometimes he tries to do to much, Timmons has been arguably the best pick of the Tomlin era, and he will continue to be a vital part of this team. Like Roethlisberger, the Steelers would be foolish to say goodbye to Timmons, who in my mind is their best defensive player.
As far as Sylvestor, Garvin, and Wilson go, they all are mainly special teams players, who are expendable.
Keep: Jarvis Jones, LaMarr Woodley
Expendable: Jason Worilds, Chris Carter
While Jarvis Jones hasn’t played up to expectations after beating out Jason Worilds, he will remain on the team no matter what mainly because no team will cut a first round draft pick after one year. Look at how below-the-line Ziggy Hood has been, and he still is a Steeler in year five. Jarvis Jones has huge potential, he just needs to keep working and trust what Keith Butler and Dick Lebeau are teaching him. I have no doubt he will get there because Jones is a playmaker.
LaMarr Woodley still hasn’t lived up to the contract he was given in 2011, but he hasn’t looked as bad this season. Once again, due to lack of depth Woodley’s chances of staying around are pretty good, but he hasn’t played to the level where he has to be kept. With his five sacks, he has played fairly mediocre, but its much better than the slow Woodley we saw last season.
Jason Worilds is on the fence for me. He has shown flashes, but in a contract year, he couldn’t even beat out Jarvis Jones, who hasn’t been an all-pro by any stretch. The only way I see him being brought back is if it is for depth purposes and no other team is willing to pay him much. As far as Chris Carter is concerned, he has been inactive for several games this year, so I would be very surprised to see him in the black-and-gold in 2014.
Keep: Ike Taylor, William Gay, Cortez Allen
Expendable: Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Antwon Blake
Ike Taylor is aging, but he is still a shutdown corner. He can go toe-to-toe with the best of them, and he can be counted on to shadow the opponents best receiver. I will say though that he needs to work on not quitting if he does get beat, because he often looks like he doesn’t care if he gets beat. He will be a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2014.
William Gay has been a nice surprise. Other than the New England game, Gay has looked nothing like the corner we say up until 2010. While he is no all-pro, Gay has played at an admirable level, and he is a very solid third corner.
Cortez Allen hasn’t played to the level the Steelers expected, but some of that may be due to the several injuries he suffered. If he can get back to the player he was late last year, the Steelers may have their next Ike Taylor, but with hands! Either way, I would not be surprised to see the Steelers draft another corner.
Antwon Blake and DeMarcus Van Dyke are not going to be used on the defense at all, and they do(and will not see) the field other than special teams, unless injuries occur.
Curtis Brown is almost guaranteed to be gone next year, as he has been nothing but a wasted draft pick. He has looked flat-footed, and unable to play on the Steelers defense. Anyone that wants to argue this can just watch the San Diego game from last season.
Keep: Shamarko Thomas, Troy Polamalu, Robert Golden
Expendable: Ryan Clark, Will Allen
Shamarko Thomas, A.K.A, “Shark” has shown flashes, and looks to be the starter for Pittsburgh in the near future, if not next season. Troy Polamalu looked stupid against Tom Brady, but to be honest, thats the case with most safeties when facing Brady. Polamalu has never been the greatest in coverage anyways, but he has gotten worse. But, in the run game, you won’t find a much better run defending safety. Polamalu may only have one or two years left, but I expect to see him on the Steelers come 2014, unless there is an unforeseen circumstance.
Robert Golden hasn’t looked great either, as he is most famous for getting run-over by Jay Cutler. I still think the Steelers see something in him, and he should improve with more time under Coach Lake. I am very interested to watch his development. Will Allen was solid in 2012, but we have yet to see what he has looked like this season, but if being cut by the Cowboys is any indication, he won’t probably be brought back.
Sadly, Ryan Clark’s time is over. I didn’t want to jump the gun in the preseason, but he has steeply declined. After a great career, it appears it is time for Clark to file his retirement papers, as I do not expect him to be back with the Steelers next season. There is one place I do expect to see him next year: in the broadcast booth.
Who do you think should be brought back? Let us know in the comments!