September 16, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) is hit by San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Cam Thomas (93) and linebacker Shaun Phillips (95) as he releases the ball during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers Sign Cam Thomas, Plugs The Leak At NT


The Pittsburgh Steelers made some early moves in free agency – something fans aren’t accustomed in seeing or hearing.  As the team appeared to gather steam during the week, the air was quickly let out of the defensive balloon starting on Thursday.  On Friday afternoon, they have appeared to bounce back and at the very least slowed the leak.

Defensive linemen Al Woods and Ziggy Hood left the team for the Titans and the Jaguars respectively.  Hood’s departure officially closes the books on the 2009 draft class.  Every single one of those draftees are now with other teams.  Woods was a large blow to the line mainly because of his ability to play NT fairly well.  Up to that point McClendon had been struggling at that spot and is better suited as a defensive end.  Hood has always struggled at the line, and as he held a press conference with the Jags, pretty much summed up what everyone knew: He was a square peg 4-3 defense trying to be squeezed into the round hole of a 3-4.  People may think ‘bust’ but he will probably fair well down in Jacksonville.

With the departure of Woods and Hood, the Steelers were now staring at a rather thin roster on the defensive line: Cam Heyward, Brian Arnfelt, Brett Keisel (if re-signed), and Steve McLendon.  Signing Thomas is more than just adding depth to the defensive line.  At 330lbs, Cam Thomas’ large frame can and will plug up holes.  He’s probably not quite as large a plug as Big Snack, but he is still under 30 (age 27) and has mainly served a back up until last season.  Does that help his longevity at doing this?  I’m not sold on that, but the Steelers helped themselves by only signing Thomas to a two year contract.  If he doesn’t perform well, he’s gone in a couple years.  If he breaks down or gets hurt, they can off the hook with him quickly.

A two year deal also means that the Steelers will probably try and find a NT in this draft.  Thomas will be forcing McLendon to start on the outside since that is a better suited position for him.  This also could signal the end of Da Beard (as much as that pains me to say).  If the Steelers could get a hometown discount and minimum for Keisel, they probably could sign him on as a back up role.  But would Keisel settle for playing backup rather than the arrow slinging starter he’s been for so long?

The team is far from over in addressing the D-line, but it looks like that it’s shaping up to be Heyward, Thomas, and McLendon making up the front three starters going into training camp this summer.  I can hear “Twin Cam” as some sort of marketing slogan alreayd.  The addition of Thomas is a nice rebound from what could have been a rather disastrous 24 hours for the Steelers.  I like the move and hope he can contribute in a big way.  The Steelers run defense was horrid last season, and much of it had to do with the fact they didn’t have a solid NT to take up lots of space in the middle.  Not sure how well he will do with any sort of pass rush, so we might see McClendon move to NT and Kesiel (should the re-sign him) step in on the outside on passing downs.

Welcome to the Black & Gold, Cam.

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  • datdudedre’

    I like the signing of Cam Thomas for many reasons. First, NT was a glaring weakness last year. We finished with our lowest ranking in run defense in decades, and the lack of a space-eater in the middle was a big reason why. Also, this signing will allow McClendon to move back to his more natural DE position. At 280 pounds, he seems better suited as a DE and could still slide down to nose on passing downs. A starting D-Line of Thomas at the nose flanked by Heyward and McClendon outside would be a very solid unit. If we add Alex Carrington to the mix, he could start and McClendon can be that versatile backup who could chip in at both spots and add valuable depth. If Carrington is brought aboard, it would signal the end of Brett Keisel in a Steelers uni. The jury is still out on whether Cam can be an effective starter, since he has only started around 10 games in his 4 year career. But the loss of backup nose Al Woods, coupled with Cam’s size (330 pounds) and youth (only 27), makes this a gamble worth taking. A modest, 2 year deal also helps soften the blow if he doesn’t pan out. At worst, he could be a solid sub, which is what he was most of his time in San Diego. The signing also gives us more freedom in the draft, where would have been looking at the D-line with an early pick.