This is Part 2 of the Steelers Offseason Preview series. This article will preview the defense and specialists. Check out the offensive preview in Part 1 here.
(All contract and salary information is courtesy of Spotrac. All stats are courtesy of NFL.com and ESPN)
The nose tackle position was somewhat of a weak spot for the 2013 Steelers. In the first year after Casey Hampton retired Steve McLendon was thrust into the starting job and Hebron Fangupo was left as the backup. Fangupo was in no way fitted to be a backup and McLendon didn’t play up to expectations, only totaling 33 tackles and 1 forced fumble. Al Woods also spent some time as a rotational nose tackle, but he also played defensive end. The Steelers could , and should, opt to move McLendon to defensive end next year, where’s he’s much better suited. McLendon and Cam Heyward will give the Steelers a combination that will be almost as good as Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel.
Expect McLendon to start along the line somewhere next season, whether it be at nose tackle or defensive end. Fangupo will likely be gone and replaced with a more suitable option. If the Steelers’ brass believes that McLendon is better suited to play 5-tech, they will likely bring in a nose tackle early in the draft. If they believe that he is suited for the nose tackle position, they will likely dip into the pull of 5-techs early on in the draft.
Draft: Possible picks include Louis Nix III (1st), DaQuan Jones (2nd-3rd), Ryan Carrethers (3rd-4th), Justin Ellis (4th-5th), or Zach Kerr (7th)
Free Agency: Possible targets include Paul Soliai (Dolphins), Terrence Cody (Ravens), or Al Woods (Steelers)
Current Contracts: No moves
Defensive End (5-tech)
Defensive end turned out much better than expected during the 2013 season. Cameron Heyward developed into a star and has quite a future in the league. On the other side of the line, Brett Keisel held down the end position played very well, despite his age. Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, and Brian Arnfelt towards the end of the season, did an admiral job backing up Heyward and Keisel. Hood, Keisel, Woods, and Arnfelt are all free agents this offseason.
Expect the Steelers’ front office to resign Woods and Arnfelt, as both have a bright future ahead of them. The team will likely let Hood and Keisel walk, unless either of them agrees to very fair deal, in which case they could be brought back. The front office will likely elect to address defensive end somewhere early on in the draft, unless Steve McLendon moves to defensive end and Woods and Arnfelt are resigned.
Draft: Possible picks include Ra’Shede Hageman (1st), Aaron Donald (1st), Stephon Tuitt (2nd), Josh Mauro (3rd), Jay Bromley (4th-5th), Brent Urban (5th), or Taylor Hart (6th)
Free Agency: A possible target is Leger Douzable (Jets) or Ziggy Hood (Steelers)
Current Contracts: No moves
Unlike defensive end, the Steelers’ outside linebackers were largely disappointing during the 2013 season. Jarvis Jones performed worse than expected, LaMarr Woodley once again showed why he was the recipient of the worst contract in Steeler history, and Chris Carter continued his streak of not improving over the offseason. Jason Worilds was the only one who impressed this season, as he
wildly exceeded expectations. He racked up 63 tackles, 8 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 11 games started. There should be a considerable amount of turnover at the position this offseason.
The teams’ front office should do absolutely everything they can to bring back Jason Worilds. Worilds will pair with Jarvis Jones, who hopefully improves considerably, as a nice starting linebacker tandem with loads of potential. Hopefully LaMarr Woodley will be released after Jun 1st, which will transfer most of his cap hit to the 2015 season. Expect Chris Carter to be back for the last year of his contract to see if he finally develops. The front office will have to bring in another outside linebacker via the draft or free agency if any of the above mentioned foursome isn’t back for 2014.
Draft: Possible picks include Marcus Smith (3rd), Michael Sam (4th), Shaquil Barrett (6th), Chidera Uzo-Diribe (7th)
Free Agency: Possible targets include Jason Worilds (Steelers), Rob Jackson (Redskins), Frank Zombo (Chiefs), or Larry English (Chargers)
Current Contracts: If LaMarr Woodley isn’t released he will almost definitely receive a restructured contract to reduce his cap hit
This is one of the most debated about positions of need for the Steelers’ this offseason. Lawrence Timmons once again proved that he is the most underrated linebacker in the league, but he didn’t have much around him. Larry Foote was sidelined for the year before his season even started. Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, and Kion Wilson were left as his replacements. Williams took over most of the duty, and he performed admirably for a rookie 6th round pick, but he had to come out on passing downs in favor of Terence Garvin or Kion Wilson. Garvin also played much better than expected for an undrafted free agent, and Wilson didn’t see much playing time. Sean Spence is the wild card of the group. He was a third round pick 2 years ago, but he hasn’t played at all during the regular season due to knee and arm injuries.
Expect the Steelers’ front office to draft an inside linebacker at some point in the draft, but don’t expect a free agent to be brought in, as there aren’t many suitable choices on the market. Timmons, Williams, and Terence Garvin should all remain on the roster, along with Spence if he can stay healthy. There shouldn’t be too much turnover.
Draft: Possible picks include CJ Mosley (1st), Chris Borland (2nd), Christian Kirksey (3rd-4th), Christian Jones (4th), or Avery Williamson (5th)
Free Agency: No Moves
Current Contracts: Lawrence Timmons will likely either receive an extension or restructuring to reduce his cap hit and/or keep him in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.
The Steelers cornerback stable is in shambles following the 2013 season. Only three players on the roster have starting experience, while the rest of the players on the roster are unproven. Ike Taylor hugely disappointed this past season and Cortez Allen didn’t live
up to expectations, even if he was over-hyped. William Gay was the only regular contributor who didn’t make much noise during the season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Curtis Brown continued to play like a high school corner and, just to show how miserable his season was, here is a fun fact. He didn’t play a single defensive snap the ENTIRE SEASON. Isaiah Lewis was the fifth corner, but he didn’t receive much playing time.
Their won’t be considerable turnover at the cornerback position this year, but in 2015 the position should look different. Expect two corners to be brought in, whether they come from free agency or the draft, with at least one being a draft pick. Cortez Allen and William Gay will both be returning, and Ike Taylor could also return at a reduced rate. The cornerback position needs a major upgrade.
Draft: Possible picks include Justin Gilbert (1st), Kyle Fuller (2nd), Pierre Desir (2nd), Bashaud Breeland (2md-3rd), Marcus Roberson (2nd-3rd), Jaylen Watkins (3rd), Walt Aikens (4th), Dexter McDougle (5th-6th), or Aaron Colvin (5th-6th)
Free Agency: Possible targets include Sam Shields (Packers), Will Blackmon (Jaguars), or Corey Graham (Ravens)
Current Contracts: Ike Taylor will have a contract restructuring if he’s back. Cortez Allen could have his contract extended to keep him in Pittsburgh for the future
The safety position has been one of the Steelers’ most stable positions for the last decade, but that has changed. Although Troy Polamalu an Ryan Clark were adequate starters this past season, they are both on the wrong side of thirty and nearing the end of their careers. Shamarko Thomas didn’t play much this past season, but he has potential to develop into a lesser clone of Polamalu. The other two safeties on the roster are Will Allen and Robert Golden. Will Allen was cut at the beginning of the season, but he proved that he is a very valuable backup. Golden is a budding young player who could, possibly, develop into a starter.
The Steelers’ front office will either elect to bring in a safety via free agency or pick one early in the draft. Polamalu will likely play out the last year of his contract before retiring, and then be replaced by Shamarko Thomas or whoever the team brings in over the offseason. Will Allen is a free agent, but he should be brought back at the right price, as he is a valuable backup and special teams player.
Draft: Possible picks include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1st), Calvin Pryor (1st), Jimmie Ward (2nd), Deone Buccanon (2nd), Ed Reynolds (3rd), Marqueston Huff (4th-5th), or Jonathan Dowling (6th)
Free Agency: Possible targets include Major Wright (Bears), Bernard Pollard (Titans), Kurt Coleman (Eagles), or Will Allen (Steelers)
Punter was once again one of the weaknesses of the Steelers’ roster, and kicker was one of the strongest. Shaun Suisham, once again, proved that he is one of the elite kickers in the league. Greg Warren doesn’t get his name called often, which means he is a very solid long snapper and should be brought back again this year. Brad Wing was signed to a reserve/future contract, and he will compete for the punter job this offseason.
Draft: Possible picks include punters Kirby Van Der Kamp (6th), Tom Hornsey (6th-7th), or Patrick O’Donnell (7th)
Free Agency: Possible targets include Greg Warren (Steelers)
Current Contracts: No moves