New series we’re kicking off here to get us through the upcoming dog days of the offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
L.T. Walton – Stay Upright, Stay Square
Walton’s snaps are a fraction of what you’d like to go off of. Officially, he played 31 snaps in his rookie year and none after Week 8. The sample size makes it difficult to gauge improvement for the sheer fact he didn’t get many chances to screw up.
At a very baseline level, Walton did alright. He showed versatility, playing the left and right side in left and right-handed stances. He hustled to the ball, got his hands up as a pass rusher, and generally maintained his gap. He knew where he was going. It’s something, at least.
But as we’ve mentioned in the past, Walton had some struggles staying on his feet and staying square. In that sample size, I found three good examples of it.
Long run by Charcandrick West against the Kansas City Chiefs, a backbreaker for Pittsburgh. Inside zone run. Walton, the left end, does play his gap and keep his leverage, outside shoulder on the tackle to hold the C gap. But the tackle buries him into the ground. The back bangs the run up inside but it’s still a negative play from Walton.
Similar story here against the Cincinnati Bengals. Steelers are in their nickel front, Walton the left DT, playing the one tech. That front is going to make you more prone to being double-teamed and combo blocked because there’s no nose tackle for the interior line to worry about.
Walton gets turned and then washed out of the hole, Jeremy Hill cutting back where Walton used to be.
Of course, playing the double-team isn’t easy, especially for a non-nose tackle like Walton. But in this nickel front, the responsibility of the down linemen have evolved to take on those nose tackle responsibilities. Especially when you’re going to shade the center. If you’re going to get blown out, it’s better to fall down and collapse the hole, creating a pile the back can’t run through. Much preferred to getting run across the formation.
Last look. A little less egregious but we can still see a problem. Walton is head up on the Arizona Cardinals’ right tackle. As the combo block from the tackle and guard takes place – the tackle passing off and climbing to the second level – Walton gets himself turned. Shoulders not square, basically out of the play. The right guard is able to seal him inside.
The nickel blitz by William Gay forgives Walton’s mistake but it’s still a negative play.
This is all stuff he can definitely get better at. And expected to do so now that he has a year under his belt, his legs under him. But something he’ll certainly have to do if he wants Pittsburgh to play him. And considering the thin options at defensive end, in their base anyway, it’s important to monitor.