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Devil’s Advocate: Nickel Snaps For ‘Digger Hargrave

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: How much playing time in the nickel defense will defensive tackle Javon Hargrave play get in 2017?

When it comes to the defensive line, it would seem to me that the most intriguing matter yet to be determined, even with a stated desire that has been repeated over the course of years, is how many snaps the team’s starters are going to have to play.

Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have had a tendency to frequently log 85-90 percent of the team’s snaps in a game, but they want to reduce that. They have said that in the past, but the resources are there now, and that includes Javon Hargrave.

The Steelers drafted the defensive tackle because they also viewed him as somebody that could play in the nickel, and so one would think that he is going to see a lot of time doing that this year. But remember, of course, that in order for him to be on the field in those situations, either Heyward and Tuitt have to be off the field.

Those are two players that they will be reluctant to take off the field, even though they know that they have to, so it will be incumbent upon Hargrave to show the coaching staff that there will be minimal to no drop-off in production with him in the game.

I think that is the key to answering this question. They know he can play, and they know they want to reduce the workload for their starting ends. But when one of them is on the bench, how much is that going to affect their ability to execute?

John Mitchell said that he believes Hargrave is in better shape this year. He also showed improvement in terms of hand-fighting as the season progressed a year ago. Those two factors combined ultimately lead me to believe that he will see a significant number of snaps per game out of the nickel because he will be able to handle it physically while delivering in terms of productivity.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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