The 2017 season is over and in the books, the Pittsburgh Steelers coming up far short of their goal. While they had a regular season record of 13-3, they went 0-1 in the postseason, and that will be the legacy of this previous campaign.
The task at hand is working toward improving that postseason record and assuring that it has a zero in the loss column instead of the win column. We can take a position-by-position look at how they can work toward that goal based on their personnel.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 3
Javon Hargrave: Opinions vary on Javon Hargrave, but I’m largely in the pro camp who watches him dominate centers one-on-one with his quickness and hand usage, generating pressure up the middle. That only translated into two sacks last year, but he is clearly capable of producing more. He was among the higher-producing interior defenders in generating pressure last year, though he was much more successful in the first half of the season than the second. His culpability for the run defense issues are exaggerated, but he can still improve here as well.
Daniel McCullers: It’s been four seasons and Daniel McCullers still basically only sees the field when there is an injured player entering a game, otherwise not even dressing. If for that reason along, it is clear that he is probably not going to be brought back. They have been speaking about him for years about if he would just do this or that, and evidently they don’t feel he ever has.
L.T. Walton: Drafted as a defensive end, L.T. Walton was given the opportunity to play inside last year to secure a gameday helmet over McCullers. Let’s just say that he had his ups and downs in doing that, the lowlight coming in the playoffs. He’s better suited to being an emergency nose tackle than a backup.
Offseason Strategy: Add Depth
This one requires a major caveat, in order to contextualize the ‘defensive tackle’ position in the Steelers’ base defense, which is a nickel 3-4 front that typically sets in a 4-2-5 alignment. There are two down linemen with two outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage, the two inside linebackers, and five defensive backs.
As such, the ‘defensive tackles’ in most instances are Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, but Hargrave also spend a lot of time subbing in during this package, as does Tyson Alualu, and there is no reason to believe that any of these four players won’t be back in 2018.
That said, there is the more direct purpose of the ‘nose’ tackle, as the center of the former ‘base’ 3-4 front that includes three down linemen, and in that area, they need depth, because there are no indications that they intend to re-sign McCullers, and Walton is not the answer there.
Whether it is a modest free agent signing or a Day Three draft pick, the Steelers don’t need much here, but a backup for Hargrave could really help to solidify the defensive line as a group from top to bottom.