The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2016 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Never the less, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: L.T. Walton
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 2 Years
It probably didn’t seem very likely at the start of the year, but by the end of the 2016 season, second-year former sixth-round draft pick L.T. Walton ascended in the pecking order to become an important part of the Steelers’ defensive line.
Of course, his ascendance to prominence came largely as the result of injuries in front of him, but for a player who going into the season was not doubt expected to be a game day inactive the entire time unless an injury crept up, it is a pretty significant leap.
Walton’s playing time increased significantly following the final injury that Cameron Heyward suffered that landed him on injured reserve. He began splitting time with free agent acquisition Ricardo Mathews, with the former being used more frequently as their 3-4 defensive end, and the latter getting more time in obvious passing situations.
Mathews later dealt with an injury as well, however, which left Walton in the starting lineup and playing the bulk of the snaps every game, and by and large, the young player handled himself very well, even though he has yet to show that he can offer much as a pass rusher.
While that lack of an impact against the pass is obviously a concern, under the circumstances, Walton’s efforts in an expanded role last season are to be praised. He played the run well and with discipline, even making a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
It will be interesting to see what sort of role is left for him during the 2017 season after Heyward returns, especially with consideration for the fact that Javon Hargrave is likely to see even more playing time as a nickel defensive tackle, which is the primary package that the Steelers run.
There is a very real possibility that the Steelers add another significant piece to their offensive line through free agency or the draft at the defensive end position, so it is entirely possible that Walton could resume his place on the bench, albeit now as a player that the team knows can be depended upon if necessary.