As most of you already know, three of Pittsburgh’s most experienced defensive ends are set to hit the free agent market this March.
Although the Steelers will likely try to ink Al Woods, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood, they are unlikely to keep all three due to their limited cap space and the fact that they might choose to go indifferent directions during their rebuilding process.
With a potential overhaul when it comes to personnel in mind, soon to be second-year defensive ends Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams could be primed to take advantage of some opportunities to shine during the coming months.
Arnfelt was one of my favorite UDFA signings from last spring, and I was certainly excited to see how well the former Northwestern Wildcat played during the preseason. Arnfelt made his presence felt in each of Pittsburgh’s four preseason games, and earned a spot on the team’s practice squad for his efforts.
It definitely appeared as if Arnfelt would be relegated to the practice squad for the entirety of his rookie season. However, injuries to Keisel and nose tackle Steve McLendon allowed Arnfelt to be promoted to Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster towards the end of the 2013 campaign.
Unlike Arnfelt, Williams saw no regular season action during his rookie campaign. In fact, the raw yet athletic defensive linemen spent his first professional season on the Reserve/Injured list.
Although Williams likely would not have seen any playing time as a rookie, the fact that he redshirted due to his injury definitely sets him behind Arnfelt as they both head into their second seasons. To be fair to Williams, he has the athletic ability and quickness to develop into a potential beast down the road.
A former basketball player, Williams could be a legitimate force as a five-technique for the Steelers if Mitchell can develop him into a disciplined two-gap end. I for one would like to see what Williams can bring to the table from a skill-set perspective during his second professional season, and we should see plenty of him during the third and fourth quarters of Pittsburgh’s preseason games this summer.
Potential personnel losses during the free agency period will mean that there are opportunities to rise in the pecking order along the defensive line. So even if only one of the three potential free agents leaves town, it will still create chances for Arnfelt and Williams to step up their respective games.
Pittsburgh could stand to have one or both of their promising defensive ends step up this fall, and their emergence would allow the defense to focus on other holes to fill as the franchise tries to rebuild.
Thus, performing well and illustrating improvement during the coming months will be of the utmost importance to youngsters like Arnfelt and Williams if they wish to see any playing time in the defensive line rotation during their second seasons.
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