The Pittsburgh Steelers will be putting a defense on the field that is radically different in appearance than the one that began last season.
As a matter of fact, this is a defense that will already be markedly different from that one that they even opened this season with.
If we got back to the season opener of the 2013 season, we find that only three players who started that game in the base defense will be out there on Monday night against the Houston Texans to start the game in base personnel.
Those three players would be Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds. Every other player expected to start in the next game was either not on the field, not on the team, or not even in the league.
The entire defensive line that will take the field against the Texans did not start last year’s season opener, although two of them did start this year’s season opener.
Cameron Heyward was still a rotational player until he won the starting job by the fifth game of the 2013 season. He is one of the few mainstays in the front seven from this year’s season opener. Cam Thomas has been starting at left defensive end all season, but he will start this game at nose tackle.
Stephon Tuitt, according to reports, will be making his first career start next week at left defensive end. He has played less than 12 snaps per game up to this point, so this extended look will put him to the test.
Should the Steelers have opted to start Brett Keisel instead, that would have given them one more player from last year’s starting unit. But since they moved Heyward over to the right side, it appears that they want to leave him there, so that may have factored into the decision to start Tuitt, assuming that is what happens.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are already missing two of their starting linebackers, from both this season opener and the 2013 season. Jarvis Jones did not start last year’s season opener, but he did start this year. He is set to miss his fourth of at least eight games with an injury. In his place will be Arthur Moats once again, who was a free agent signing this year.
Also missing are the Steelers starting cornerbacks, from both of the past two season openers. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen have been out there on the outside for the first snap of each of the last two seasons, but neither will be there on Monday night.
Taylor, of course, broke his arm, and William Gay has been starting in his place. It seems that Allen is being demoted, at least for this game, to his prior nickel back role. This also happened last year, but that was with Taylor healthy.
This time, he is being moved over in favor of Brice McCain, who could not even get on the field in the first game that Taylor was injured. He played in the nickel in the following game, however, and has done so in the past three games. He now gets a chance to start.
Long story short, the Steelers will be putting out a defense against the Texans that includes six new starters—or starters in a new position—just from this season’s opening week. Most of it is injury related, and all appears temporary.