During Monday’s annual pre-draft oppress conference, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked about the future of the nose tackle position in the team’s defense now that it is viewed as being heavily devalued due to the way offenses are attacking with multiple wide receiver personnel groupings. Colbert certainly made his feelings known about the position and how it still has value league-wide.
“We’re still a base 34 team and the nose tackle is still part of the defense,” said Colbert. “We’ve talked about it numerous times in the offseason, he gets removed because of the matchups that you have to have schematically when people put three and four wide receivers in the games, so that occurred probably 75 percent of the time last year. So the nose tackle’s importance probably has diminished from a sheer numbers standpoint. He just won’t see the field as often as he has in the past, but there still will be times when you have to stop the run. We might be behind in the game and the other team’s going to decide to run the football and clock us out, and not get our offense back on the field. So we still have to able to stop it, it’s not like they’re completely extinct.”
Colbert continued on with his lengthy explanation.
“If some of those nose tackles types are in your defense, maybe not as starters, but as package players and they’re subbing in and out for some of the other guys that may be the starters in the sub package, they have to be able to respond to draws, because teams love to get you in three and four wides and get those big people off the field and then drop a draw on you and they get 15, 20 yards, and you’re behind the eight-ball again. So there’s still a spot for big people that can stop the run, probably just not as frequently as they have in the past.”
Colbert was then asked if some of the players in this year’s draft class who have been projected as nose tackles also appear to have the skills that would allow them to perhaps backup Steelers defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt in pass rushing situations as part of the team’s sub package defense.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Colbert. “I mean a lot of these kids have four or five, six sacks to go along with their ability to play the run because they’re doing it in college, just what we talked about. They might be rushing the passer. They can be a nose tackle in a conventional defense, but the majority of them are playing against spread offenses and have to rush the passer at some point.”
Those comments by Colbert are exactly why you have seen Alex Kozora and myself state several times that Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings should indeed be in consideration for the team’s first-round selection this year. Billings, as we have pointed out several times so far this offseason on the site, can indeed function as a sub package pass rusher with the Steelers should the team decide they want to lighten the load on both Heyward and Tuitt moving forward.
Even if the Steelers don’t wind up going defensive tackle in the first round this year, you can probably count on one being drafted somewhere in the first four rounds of the draft. Additionally, that player is likely to be considered a player who can not only stop the run as a base 3-4 nose tackle, but also one able to rush the passer on a limited basis in the team’s sub package defenses.
South Carolina State product Javon Hargrave is yet another early-round defensive player who seemingly would fit the Steelers needs when it comes to what Colbert described above. Like Billings, the Steelers have shown a lot of interest in Hargraves during the pre-draft process.
We’ll find out in a matter of a few days whether or not the Steelers will spend their first round draft pick this year on a defensive tackle and if they do, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.