The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.
As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.
The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.
Considering how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.
Nose tackle Steve McLendon is entering his second season as a full-time starter, but he looks the part much more this summer than he did a year ago.
He’s also one of six players on the defensive side of the ball who started the season opener last year and are also projected to start the season opener this year. And like much of the rest of the defense, he has a way to go before he can say that he’s lived up to his predecessor—in this case, the five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.
Hampton, of course, was the Steelers’ nose tackle the last three times they played in the Super Bowl, most recently in 2010.
He was in many ways the prototypical nose tackle, with both the size and strength to clog the middle of the defense and open up lanes for the inside linebackers to make the plays and take the glory.
But he wasn’t merely a prototype, of course; he also excelled beyond prototypical standards, as attested to not only by his awards but through the standards that he helped set for the defenses that he played on across the 00s and into this decade.
For a 3-4 defense, it’s not unfair to say that it all begins with the nose tackle. Having the right person spearheading the defensive line can have a profound impact on the quality of defensive play around and behind the nose tackle.
McLendon would be the first to tell you that his performance during his first year as a starter lacked a certain championship-level panache. He believes that his work through this offseason has helped him take great strides in correcting his errors discovered while learning on the job a year ago.
Will he be able to make the appropriate adjustments in year two of his career as a starter? Can he be the anchor that the linebackers need to function at full capacity, that helps the entire defense run smoothly? Can he play at a championship level, while the Steelers still have a window that includes the services of a franchise quarterback?