When the offseason began—or rather, even before it—the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches and players were talking about the importance of defensive line depth, and how the improvement of said depth had to be in large part an internal solution. Part of that solution is intended to be second-year defensive end L.T. Walton.
As a rookie, Walton spent most of the 2015 season on the inactive list, though he was on the roster for the entire year. He was active only when there was an injury along the line, and even then only sparsely played in the games. It is certainly not unusual for a rookie defensive lineman to contribute little here in Pittsburgh, after all.
But there has been some good talk about his development since his rookie season, and I even took a look at some of his snaps from the first preseason game last week in order to provide some analysis of said improvement.
Yet Walton did not participate in the Steelers’ last preseason game against the Eagles. He had been missing the last few practices of training camp while dealing with a back injury, and that was evidently significant enough to keep him from participating in the game.
One would hope that he is well enough to go against the Saints later this week, even though the reps might be harder to come by in the third preseason game when the starters are expected to command a larger share of the total snaps than is the case in any of the other exhibition contests in August.
One can’t help but wonder, however, if we are getting a preview of what we might see during the regular season, as it is the norm for the Steelers to dress only five defensive linemen. Outside of the starting defensive ends, it appears that Ricardo Mathews will most likely serve as the top reserve on the edge.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have worked both Javon Hargrave and Daniel McCullers quite a bit in sub-packages through the first two preseason games—Hargrave in particular, though the use of the latter has been more surprising, and not wholly unrewarding.
We are still a while off before we come to a resolution on a 53-man roster, and thus it is difficult to try to pen a presumptive game-day inactive list and whether or not there might be room for a sixth active defensive lineman, but the Steelers will inevitably want to see more from Walton regardless.
For one thing, fellow second-year defensive end Caushaud Lyons got his share of workload against the Eagles—22 snaps, and did not look bad by any means. While I would imagine he has an uphill climb to unseat Walton for a roster spot, it is not impossible.
Whether or not a sixth lineman is likely to dress for every game, injuries are bound to happen, and then the sixth man will be needed. The Steelers should have one that is better-prepared to contribute in 2016 in comparison to last year.