Recently I wrote a post on what each offensive positional unit for the Pittsburgh Steelers can do to make the entire offense be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Now, we will switch gears and focus on how the defense can become a headache for opposing offenses. The defense was not what it has been during previous years. The first half of the season was horrendous, but like the offense, somewhat picked up their play in the second half of the season. There were also some nice surprises that started to come along during the second of the season as we saw both Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds just absolutely dominate at times, and even Ziggy Hood was playing some pretty decent ball. Here’s what the rest of the defense can do in order to be as dominant as the couple players mentioned above.
Like I mentioned above, Cameron Heyward was a very nice surprise last season. Many expected him to pick up his play, but he took it to another level no one knew he had (at least for the time being). This is also a good thing he excelled last season instead of the last year of his rookie contract because the Steelers have made some mistakes by not extending some very good players before their rookie contracts expired (Jason Worilds, Keenan Lewis). The only problem with Heyward this coming season is getting him extended, and the Steelers should do everything they can to do that.
Now to the rest of the defensive line, they didn’t play as bad as some of you think. You have to remember that there were 2 rookie linebackers starting. Ziggy Hood had a pretty solid season, and in order for the line to keep getting better, they need to retain him. That should be one of their top offseason priorities is to resign Hood for a modest contract. Steve McLendon didn’t have that bad of a season either. He wasn’t the pass rushing beast we saw in limited action the season before, but he still showed potential. It was his first season with a full time gig, and I think a full offseason knowing what to expect should benefit him greatly. He is one of those players who just need a little more time to develop. The best thing for the D-line is to just keep the starters consistent. Having a line consisting of Hood, McLendon, and Heyward playing next to each other all season will help them develop some good chemistry, as well as with the linebackers. No need to draft a defensive lineman early in the draft – to me it would be a waste of a pick. Let them get some games under their feet together as a unit, then let’s watch how their chemistry starts opening holes for Jarvis and Worilds, yes Jason Worilds.
Sign Jason Worilds! Release Lamarr Woodley! This is the most talked about issue with the Steelers this offseason. And yes, I am on the Worilds bandwagon. I personally was shocked when they drafted Jarvis Jones in the 2013 NFL draft. I was more persuaded that Alec Ogletree at inside linebacker was the guy they needed, but no going back now. Worilds is younger and will not command the money that Woodley got, though he will still come with a hefty price. There have also been reports that Woodley has a bad attitude in the locker room, something not typically affiliated with the Steelers. This is their number one priority, to sign Worilds and release Woodley. Now to the other linebackers, Jarvis Jones will be starting next year. Bringing Joey Porter in was a fantastic move by the Steelers. He can do wonders for Jones, who has an incredibly high ceiling as a pass rusher. This doesn’t rank up with the Munchak hire, but maybe Porter is a coach in waiting with the Steelers.
To the inside – Timmons will continue to quietly hold down his spot without any recognition whatsoever and no pro bowls to show for it, maybe next year is the year? To the other spot – I can’t wait to see how Vince Williams improves in his second year. He had his struggles, but remember that he was a sixth round rookie who took over the starting job when Larry Foote went down and barked out the orders to the rest of the defense, in Dick Lebeau’s defense! He now has a year in the system and I think that will benefit him greatly. I don’t know how high his ceiling is as a complete player (pass rushing, man/zone coverage), but I can’t wait to find out. He should definitely have the opportunity to compete for the starting job with Foote and Spence this coming season, and I would love to see him steal it and never look back.
In my opinion, this is the most important position going into the offseason. This is a position that must be addressed. Ike Taylor needs to go. I think he will be one of the veterans cut this offseason, and I wouldn’t be mad if it happened. His play dropped considerably, and he is way too expensive. I’ve had the Steelers picking corner in the first round since about the middle of the season, and I still think that’s where they need to go. There are two prospects that they could take in the first round that are worth it – Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State and Darqueze Dennard from Michigan St. If one of the two are there when the Steelers pick, they need to grab them. Cortez Allen is the future of the cornerback position for the Steelers. Like many of the other young players, he is still developing, but this is the year I think he will break out, and maybe even reach pro bowl level. Remember, it took Keenan Lewis 4 years to break out, Cortez is going into his fourth year. Great things are coming from him, and he needs to be extended this offseason. Pair Cortez with a first round draft pick this year, preferably Justin Gilbert, and the Steelers are set with their starting corners for years to come.
To the safety position, bye-bye Ryan Clark. He will always be remembered as Troy Polamalu’s partner in crime, but now it’s time for the next great safety duo. Shamarko Thomas is, yet again, another one of those young guys that needs some time to develop. This guy can be a beast! He is also the future (like Cortez) of the safety position with the Steelers. The Steelers are in need of another safety to pair with Shamarko, and I think that Tre Boston out of North Carolina is a perfect fit for them. He will be available in the third or fourth round, and another trade is possible in order to draft the guy. The Steelers need to find a corner and a safety in the draft, and Justin Gilbert and Tre Boston both seem like they were born to be Steelers. I am excited to see if they go in that direction in the draft, and they really should.
Basically, the Steelers defense is already in place, besides half of the secondary who will need some time to get used to the defense anyway. The Steelers need to keep their defensive line consistent, making them a unit to build some chemistry. They need to let their young players develop and extend them now, so when they get to Heyward and Worilds level, they are already under contract. The last thing is to go all in with the secondary in the draft, spending 2 picks in the first 4 rounds to find replacements for Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor. If the Steelers do that, give it some time and the defense will once again put fear in the hearts of the opponents, like the days when Joey Porter was around!