Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave expects to be on the field more often in 2018 during his third season in the NFL, and that is not because he expects the Pittsburgh Steelers to make greater usage of their ‘base’ 3-4 defense, which has become more of a sub-package over the course of the past few years.
Instead, it is because he believes that the team under new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar is going to make greater usage of a rotation along the defensive line, rather than relying upon their workhorses at defensive end in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, the former coming off a first-team All-Pro season with 12 sacks.
“I think we’re just going to roll it this year”, Hargrave told Jacob Klinger during OTAs recently. “So there’s going to be a lot of rotational things and seeing what guys can do”. Working in a proper rotation has been something the team, and former defensive line coach John Mitchell, have struggled to put together and execute in recent years.
That wasn’t always the case. Most recently in 2014, the Steelers had a comfortable rotation with Heyward, a rookie Tuitt, veteran Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel in his final season, and free agent acquisition Cam Thomas. Though Thomas was technically the starter, Keisel actually logged more snaps up to his injury. Following the injury, the Steelers installed Tuitt as the starter over Thomas.
Given that the Steelers spend most of their time—somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of their snaps—with five or more defensive backs on the field and just two down linemen, that means Hargrave’s extra snaps are going to come as a defensive tackle, which requires greater endurance than as a nose tackle.
And the former third-round pick believes he is better-prepared to take on that workload than ever before, acknowledging that he has been more conscious about taking care of his body this offseason, which includes the food that he puts into it.
He said that while he weighs roughly the same that he has always weighed since coming into the league—a few pounds north of 300—he has redistributed that weight, now more toned and muscular than before.
Hargrave has recorded 59 tackles during 31 regular season games through his first two seasons. He has two sacks in each season, and he also recorded his first pass defensed and his first forced fumble in 2017. He is looking for a lot more sacks this time. His two sacks last year came in the first three games.
It is worth noting that he spent the last month and a half of the season or so dealing with a back injury that affected his play. Including the postseason, in which he was heavily subbed out, he recorded just four tackles in his final four games.