The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will the Steelers use a surprisingly high draft pick to address the defensive line for the sake of the run defense?
Steelers President Art Rooney II spoke once again yesterday, participating in a chat with members of Steelers Nation Unit, which can be found online. He talked about the need to address the defensive side of the ball, and mentioned specifically the run defense, which he described as “soft”.
It’s not infrequent that similar ‘messages’ from Rooney have, at least seemingly, been taken as manifestos by the brain trust to put a course of action into motion. We saw this with previous comments about the secondary and the pass rush.
Not that there is an immediate opening in the starting lineup, or anything. Both Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are under long-term contracts, while the team is content with Javon Hargrave, and recent free agent acquisition Tyson Alualu represented himself well, though he only has one more year left on his contract.
After that on the depth chart, however, things can be improved. I would be flabbergasted if the Steelers were to re-sign Daniel McCullers, for one thing, but their attempting to pigeonhole L.T. Walton into a nose tackle role has not been effective against more aggressive and physical lines.
So I would argue that there are at least two positions open along the defensive line. Not to kick Walton to the curb by any means, but if his spot could be improved upon, then that is just the way it is.
Perhaps Rooney observed the success of other teams in the postseason in utilizing a heavier rotation along the defensive line. While that is more common for 4-3 fronts, it could be done in a 3-4 as well, and it would not be unprecedented for a quality line to add a blue-chip player who falls into their lap, as the Jets did with Leonard Williams. New defensive line coach Karl Dunbar presided over that line, though in the years prior to Williams’ addition when they had Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison.
Speaking of Dunbar, another thing to note is that when the Steelers acquire a new coach, they frequently like to allow them to ‘pick out a toy’, so to speak, giving them fresh players to work with that they may have had a role in scouting. That would lend further credibility to the idea of using a surprisingly high pick on a defensive lineman in 2018.