I can't give you a real opinion on McCullers because I don't have one yet. After losing Steve McClendon to free agency, McCullers is presumed as the Steelers #1 defensive tackle. I have not seen much from the 3rd year hoss from Tennessee, and I admit that I did not watch much of the preseason opener against Detroit, or the second game against Philadelphia. Hopefully, McCullers does an adequate job of replacing McClendon, assuming he will be that man.
Position Status: I don't know
The other guys
The only real intriguing guy aside from McCullers to watch at nose tackle is Javon Hargrave. A 3rd round pick this past April, Hargrave is a complete beast at 300+ pounds, and is the definition of the word disruption. Despite all the promise, I don't expect Hargrave to be the starter right away. He may very well work to be a starter soon, but I think the fact that other teams passed him over 88 times in the draft is evidence that he has some work to do
I don't know what to think. I haven't seen enough of McCullers, and Hargrave is a rookie who I have not had time to watch. Hopefully, the nose tackle position does not hold back the defensive line, and the loss of Steve McLendon does not prove to be too costly.
Overall thoughts: Minimal
|Photo creds to www.postgazette.com|
Class personified. Heyward is the heart and soul of the Steelers defense, and one of the better defensive lineman in the NFL. Unlike many of his buffoonish teammates, Heyward is as fine of a person off the field as he is a player on it, and that's why he was the Steelers nominee of the Walter Payton Leadership Award in 2015. Heyward is proof that you don't need Antonio Browns showboating or DeAngelo Willimas "look at me I'm cool" social media attitude to be a boss on the field. Cam shows up, does his job, does it well, and moves on. That may cost him some notoriety among the great unwashed, but it is beneficial to the Steelers. Oh, and Heyward knows how the respect legends on important days in their lives, which a particular backup running back can learn something from.
Position Status: Dependable
|Photo creds to www.steelers.com|
In my first preview, I deemed Sammy Coates as the biggest breakout candidate for the Steeler offense. I'm giving the 3rd year player from Notre Dame that honor on the other side of the ball. At 6'6, 303 lbs, Tuitt is an athletic freak, and while the 2014 second round pick hasn't been a bust in his short time in Pittsburgh, he hasn't turned heads the way he is capable of doing either. I think Tuitt will excel this season playing opposite Cam Heyward. He has a excellent blend of size and speed that I forsee to be on full display in 2016. Don't be surprised if you see this kid in the Pro Bowl. He is that good.
Position Status: Just you wait
The other guys
No famous names to report here and the Steelers don't need them. Heyward and Tuitt will be just fine, but if one of them goes down for a few games, Ricardo Mathews has a good chance to fill their spot. Mathews has size and experience but let's hope the Steelers don't need him in the starting lineup.
Heyward and Tuitt could become one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. Heyward is an established gem, while Tuitt has tremendous upside. Overall, defensive end is the area where the Steelers have the least amount of unanswered questions on defense, and fans should be excited for what these guys can bring.
Overall Status: Stable
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The case of Shazier is a curious one. The 2014 first round pick out of Ohio State might be the most unique linebacker in the NFL, and this is because he is faster than any other linebacker in the NFL. But until Shazier proves that he can stay healthy for a full season, I refuse to jump on the bandwagon.
Whoever came up with the phrase "size doesn't matter" wasn't a football fan. In the NFL, size does matter, especially for a linebacker. I believe that Shazier's size (6 ft 1, 235 lbs) will cause durability problems for the rest of his career as an inside linebacker. When healthy, Shazier will be a force. Hopefully, Shazier can be a strength for a full season.
Position Status: Hit or Miss
Timmons style of play is similar to Cam Heyward's; he isn't flashy, but he gets the job done. Outside of James Harrison, Timmons has spent the longest time as a starter on the Steeler defense, and although he isn't completely satisfied with his current contract, I'm confident that that will be taken care of. We have come to expect solid play from the 10th year man out of Florida State, and provided he is healthy, 2016 will be no different
Position Status: Rock solid
James Harrison/Jarvis Jones
I'm writing about these two as a package because I expect Keith Butler to rotate these two at right outside linebacker. James Harrison is probably a better player than Jarvis Jones right now, but his age will not allow him to dominate on every down. What about Jarvis? 2016 is, in my opinion, a make-or-break season for the 2013 first rounder out of Georgia. To put it bluntly, Jones has been a bust. He showed nothing in his first two seasons and made baby strides at best last year. If Jones doesn't show some serious improvement, that will be a problem.
Position Status: Torch passing (hopefully)
I was contemplating on picking Dupree over Tuitt as my breakout player on the Steelers defense, but I went with Tuitt because I feel that, as he was a second round pick, fans expect less of him than they do out of Dupree, the Steelers first-rounder in 2015. Dupree played sporadically last season, but he showed enough promise that this year, the outside linebacker job should be his to lose. The Steelers linebacking corp is built on speed, and Dupree has it. When the Steelers drafted Dupree 22nd overall in 2015, many experts said they got a steal. Let's hope Bud proves us right.
Position Status: Promising
The Other Guys
Arthur Moats is the only non-starter that is likely to play a prominent role in the Steelers defense, but a name I want you readers to think about is Tyler Matakevich. The Steelers last pick in this year's draft is not your average late round pick, as the former Temple Owl took home two of College Football's most prestigious awards in 2015 (Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik) and was a consensus All-American. The reason for all of Matakevich's success in 2015 was not due to his athletic ability, but due to his effort and his football IQ. If you want to see what this kid is about, watch his highlights from Temple's loss to Notre Dame last October. It was so obvious that he was a coach on the field, as it seemed as if he always knew where the ball was going. Matkevich does not fit the mold as an athletic beast of a linebacker. He doesn't have the lightning speed or freakish strength, but, pardon my cliche; he is all heart. He is unlikely to see a lot of playing time this season on defense, but look for him to grind it out on special teams at the very least. Matkevich could be somebody worth following very soon.
The Steelers corp of linebackers have a lot of talent, but little of a track record. Aside from Lawerence Timmons, there are just so many things to question. Is James Harrison too old? Will Jarvis Jones take a significant step forward? Will Ryan Shazier's durability lead to his downfall? Will Bud Dupree prove to be a bust? The Steelers linebacking corp could be great, but it could also be terribly underwhelming. Like so many great things in sports, we will just have to wait and see.
Overall Status: Boom or Bust
Overall, the Steelers front seven is promising. Every probable starter has Either established himself as a quality performer or has the potential to be one. Unfourtanly, the reason the Steelers are a suspect defensive football team is because of the boys in the back. Let's talk about those guys.
|Will the rookie from Miami prove to be an ''excellent'' first-round draft choice?|
The Steelers first round draft pick should be starting at corner from day one. Although Burns is better than Antwon Blake (the fact that he is an able bodied, breathing human being proves this), I do not think he will justify the Steelers drafting him at #23 overall. Burns has prototypical size for his position, but he is too flat footed for my liking, and I did not like the way he looked when his Miami team played against tough opponents (I.e he got schooled by Clemson's Artavis Scott.) Could Burns become a good player for the Steelers? Sure. But I don't envision ever feeling good about the Black and Gold passing on Clemson's Mackenzie Alexandre for Artie Burns. If the Steelers don't start Burns right away, that will be a sign that the made a mistake. Coming into this years draft, they needed to take a corner or safety that would be a starter by the time the ink dried on his rookie contract. Hopefully, they did that with Artie Burns, but I have my doubts.
Position Status: An improvement, at least
William Gay/Ross Cockrell
One of these guys should be playing opposite Artie Burns, and I would prefer it if it were to be Cockrell. Willy Gay has made his share of huge plays in his time with the Black and Gold, but I just don't see him as a starting cornerback. Gay is good at covering slot receivers, and he would make a solid Nickleback, but I like Cockrell over him because he has more room to improve. I've heard that when two players are close regarding ability, the tie always goes to the veteran. I disagree with that. I think that the young guy should get the nod in that type of circumstance because he has more learning and a higher ceiling to go for. Sure, Cockrell's tackling ability is fit for an 8th-grade squad, but he can get better at that. There's a lot about Ross Cockrell that I like; his tenacity and football IQ are robust. I think that Cockrell has potential, and hopefully, the Steelers can help develop him into a solid NFL player. Nonetheless, I do not believe that either Gay or Cockrell are great options to have in your starting 11.
Position Status: Meh.
The other guys
The Steelers starting cornerbacks are hard enough to rave about, so why on earth would the backups be a cause for excitement? Sure, Kennen Lewis is back, but he is not the same player he was when he left the Steelers in 2012 and is not a good bet to stay healthy, and therefore, I do not expect him to start. I will say, Al-Hajj Shabazz has one of the better names in the NFL.
Antwan Blake plays for the Titans, so the Steelers cornerbacks are better just based on that. However, having a good secondary has never been more important. While I feel that Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell/William Gay will be an improvement over whatever the Steeler threw out there last season, I still don't feel comfortable thinking of Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton or even Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing on this secondary.
Overall Status: Baby steps
|photo creds to www.behindthesteelcurtian.com|
The fact that at this point, Mike Mitchell is the best player in the Steelers secondary, is not sufficient. While Mitchell expressed a renaissance last season, he is still prone to dumb mistakes, mainly because it seems delivering a big hit is all that he cares about. Mitchell is a decent football player and is a guy who knows how to get his teammates fired up. But is he somebody who you'd want as the crowned jewel of your secondary in today's NFL? The answer is no. Hopefully, some of Mitchell's mates in the Defensive Backfield pick up the slack. If not, it could be a long year.
Position Status: Static
Does anybody know who the Steelers will trot out at strong safety? The team's depth chart currently says its Robert Golden. I think Golden has potential, but like Willie Gay, I just don't see him as an ideal starter in an NFL secondary. Sharmako Thomas is in the mix, but if he couldn't cut it on special teams last season, how would he do it as a starting Saftey? Shanquez Golson will be out for a good chunk of the year. Jordan Dangerfield, Jacob Hagan, and Ray Vinopal are the others listed on the depth chart, and there's nothing to jump up and down about there. In short, I think not-resigning Will Allen is going to prove to be a mistake
Position Status: Not good
Mike Mitchell is who he is, so take him or leave him. It will be interesting to see who the Steelers trot out on the strong side, but odds are, whoever it is won't haunt the dreams of AFC wide receivers. In short, the Steelers safety's will be adequate at best, wrong at worst.
Overall Status: Meh
Wrapping it up
The Steelers defense will be improved from last season, as I see more players likely to improve than the other way around. With the Steelers offense being the well-oiled machine that it has established itself to be, the defense will be the ones who ultimately decide how far this team goes. Expect to see your fair share of 28-24 type games. So in other words, a lot of offense from both sides, so a lot of fun from both sides. Buckle up.
Overall Status: Improved, but is it good enough?