While it has taken a quite—let’s say, around a half of a decade or so—there is some cautious optimism surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers and the defense that they have been building piece by piece, largely through the draft, over the course of the past several years.
They have put in the resources, including each of their past five draft picks in the first round and the majority of their choices in the second and third rounds, to boot, and the results have begun to come to the surface over the course of the past two years.
As of this summer, it can be argued that they now have all of their pieces in place, or in waiting, for a bright future, and the Steelers—and the players—understand what sort of potential that they have in their locker room and in the defensive huddle.
But they also understand that the potential means little unless they actually go out there and do it, and that is what three of their most prominent defenders recently told Ed Bouchette as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer returns from his vacation on the eve of the team kicking off their training camp schedule.
Cameron Heyward is one of only a few players left that could argue to have been part of the last of their very good defenses before things rapidly began to decline, even though he was not in the starting lineup yet. But he was there to see the transition and the growth over the past few years.
“We have a defense that can accomplish a lot, but if we don’t put it on the field, it doesn’t count for anything”, he told Bouchette. And he’s right, of course. It doesn’t matter how many high draft picks and high salaries you might have on the roster if it doesn’t ultimately translate into wins.
Mike Mitchell, 30, has only been here for four years now, but he was in the league to see those great Steelers defenses from the late 00s to the very early 10s. “I think those guys were top three for five, six, seven years in a row”, he recalled. No doubt it was incentive for him to come here in free agency.
He may not have started in Pittsburgh, but he has certainly become a Steeler. Citing the slogan ‘the standard is the standard’, he said, “that’s such a true statement. Until we’re winning Super Bowls on a consistent basis and we’re in the top thee on a consistent basis, we’ve got a lot of work to do”.
And then there is Bud Dupree, who is one of the Steelers’ slew of young first-round defensive draft picks in recent years, aiming to become an elite pass-rusher in his third season. “We plan on being great” this season, he told Bouchette.
But “it’s all about just going out and actually doing it”, he added. The front office has spent the resources. Dupree, Heyward, Mitchell, and the rest of their teammates have put in the work this offseason. But ultimately it will come down to achieving the results on Sundays.