It’s quite clear the need for speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the football in today’s NFL, as evidenced by this past season’s Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
With the selection of Artie Burns and Sean Davis in back-to-back rounds, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear close to the finish line of completely rebuilding the defensive side of the ball, nearly matching the speed and athleticism of the vaunted offense on the other side of the ball.
Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are a solid core to work with in the athleticism and speed department, but by adding Burns and Davis to the fold in the first and second round of last month’s NFL Draft, the work of art that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler have been working on is becoming clearer and clearer by the day.
Add in guys like Senquez Golson, Javon Hargrave and Robert Golden and the youth, athleticism — and even versatility — is quite evident with the way this year’s version of the defense is being put together.
Sure, James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Mike Mitchell, William Gay and maybe even Ross Cockrell don’t really fit into the mold that Tomlin and the rest of the coaching staff is looking for, but all are key contributors to a defense that has focused on getting younger and faster over the last few years.
In a sense, that project is nearly complete, which will result in a changing of the guard very soon.
Harrison and Moats are likely in their last years as members of the Steelers, while Gay is near the tail end of his career and could be gone before his recent three-year deal ends.
Mitchell could be the elder statesman for this defense in a year or two, which will show just how much rebuilding has been done to the defense — and rightfully so.
For all the crap this defense catches, it could face much more this year as younger guys continue to step up. There will be growing pains, but I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.
I’ll gladly sacrifice growing pains in ’16 with young guys across the board if that means that in 2017 the Steelers get back to dominate ways on the defensive side of the ball.
All of that could start with Burns and Davis. Although Davis is the safest bet of the two high draft picks to receive the most playing time this coming season, Burns has more upside.
If those two can develop into what many believe they can be, the defense will be set for years to come, adding to the mix of youth and athleticism already in place in the front seven.
By finally focusing on the back end of the defense in the first two rounds of the draft, the rebuilding process of the defense is nearly complete. Now it’s up to Carnell Lake and the rest of the defensive backs assistants to get the most out of Burns and Davis.
That would be the final step in the changing of the guard for an oft-criticized Pittsburgh defense.