The Pittsburgh Steelers felt the need for some speed this offseason. Through free agency signings and draft picks, the Steelers have inserted speed into the roster in just about every position.
The Steelers seemed to have taken a few years to respond to Warren Sapp’s comments that the team was “old, slow, and it’s over”. He actually made those comments back in September of 2011 after the Steelers were walloped in a 28-point loss to the Ravens on the opening weekend of the NFL season. It seems to have taken that long to shake off the old and slow parts of the defense and inject it with younger and faster counterparts.
Instead of sticking with those old, trusty veterans we all know and love the Steelers started their transition to speediness with cutting LaMarr Woodley in favor of Jason Worilds. They continued by not re-signing Ryan Clark in favor of free agent Mike Mitchell.
The quest to add speed continued in the draft when the Steelers selected Ryan Shazier with their first pick. Shazier’s 40-time at the Ohio State pro day was faster than some receivers and defensive backs had at the Scouting Combine. Along with the fastest linebacker, the Steelers selected the fastest overall player in the draft with their 3rd-round selection, Dri Archer.
The importance of becoming faster on defense can impact the team drastically and quickly if all parts are working together correctly. According to Bob Labriola of the Steelers Digest, the defense was burned 17 times last season for plays of 40+ yards either rushing or passing. When the defense can’t keep up the pace, it puts the offense they’re playing against at a distinct advantage and they’re able to score much easier.
“You have to cover up for it schematically, and of course that puts a lot of pressure on the defensive play-caller, particularly situationally. When that’s the case, the play-caller has to be aware of personnel groups and where the offense’s speed people are located and then make sure he’s answering those challenges schematically when there’s a speed deficiency.” – Mike Tomlin
Four years ago it was a lot easier to call Warren Sapp an idiot than to realize that the Steelers defense needed to keep getting younger, faster and stronger each year to keep up with the rest of the league. But consecutive 8-8 seasons and watching plays like Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard scorched-earth run on the defense has set in motion not only a desire to get younger, faster, and stronger but also the plan and personnel to achieve it.