The NFL is a lot like a regular job, in the fact that after you spend so much time for one employer, you often become a very close-knit group with your co-workers. From things like being involved or invited to weddings, attending their children’s birthday parties or mourning the loss of a loved one, they are often some of the closest friends we make in life. And after their retirement party, there sits their vacant desk at work, waiting for the “next man up” so to speak. This is exactly what we’re seeing as it relates to the current status of the Steeler’s defense. Gone are the desk name plates with names like Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel or of season’s past like James Farrior and Casey Hampton. Other than James Harrison, nobody remains on the defense with two of those Super Bowl rings from XL and XLIII.
In their spots are the new hires, some still learning on the fly, some first time starters like Shamarko Thomas, who will learn under the “baptism by fire” rule as they’re thrust into a starting role for the first time.
“That two ring group is getting real small,” Harrison said, according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “It’s a young man’s game. You can’t play it forever. You have to be grateful for the time that you get and move on from there.”
In fact, there exist only four members of the team who own both those rings, including Greg Warren, Ben Roethlisberger, Harrison and Heath Miller. It’s a facelift of sorts, but one the team is looking to get used to quickly, as the departed veterans aren’t likely to be brought back like Harrison was.
There’s also a new sheriff in town controlling the defense, as longtime assistant Keith Butler now is at the controls, but as a longtime disciple of Dick LeBeau, a ton of change isn’t expected. There are several new starters as well, including outside linebacker Arthur Moats, strong safety Thomas and cornerback Cortez Allen, who looks to regain his starting spot he lost a year ago.
“The guys that are new to the defense that are going to get more playing time, myself included, we all have to step up and it starts here,” Moats said of the OTA’s, according to Varley.
Moats is starting in large part due to the loss of Jason Worilds earlier this offseason, and it’s a spot he may not hold onto very long if first rounder Bud Dupree grasps the defense quicker than expected. Indeed it’s a younger player’s game, and the grey haired players of the 2014 Steelers defense are gone, with the newbies stepping up to the plate, filling the shoes of longtime stalwarts of a championship-caliber unit. Will they be able to rise to the occasion? Only time will tell, but most of the veteran players feel comfortable, as change with anything is inevitable.
“It’s unfortunate to see them go, but I am grateful I had them here that long and watched them play and played with them,” Harrison said of waving goodbye to many of his friends. “When it’s time to go you have to be ready to make that transition. No defense comes in with the same group of guys year in and year out from every position.”