It seems as though we hear every year that the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in, that they want to try, using a greater amount of rotation along their defensive line. We don’t always see those results. Barring injury, it’s still Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, for the most part, burning the proverbial midnight oil.
Javon Hargrave has been the exception, as the fourth-year defensive tackle has seen his role expand in the nickel pass-rush over the course of the past two seasons, particularly last year. The man in the middle, who is due for a contract extension this summer, expressed his belief about an expanded or refined rotation this year.
“I’m sure that’s something they’re looking at, just seeing rotations, seeing who would be good with each other”, he told Jacob Klinger of PennLive over the course of the spring workouts in the past month. “Just seeing how they can get ready for the games”.
Hargrave’s increased opportunities in the nickel front did produce results, as he more than doubled his career sack production, posting six and a half sacks. Obviously, the fact that he was able to have that production will only increase the coaching staff’s desire to get him on the field.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Steelers also added another pass-rushing defensive lineman in sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs out of Alabama. He had a career year getting after the quarterback in expanded playing time in 2018 due to injury.
Of course, before Buggs can see playing time, he has to make the 53-man roster first, and while there is an opening vacated by L.T. Walton, who was not re-signed, he is not guaranteed to get the job. Others such as Lavon Hooks, Casey Sayles, and Greg Gilmore, all of whom were in the 90-man roster last summer, will be competing with him for that spot.
The Steelers have been lagging behind when it comes to using a multitude of players along their defensive line. While that is more common in teams with 4-3 fronts, even 3-4 teams do it, and Pittsburgh has done it more proficiently in the past, but they have arguably lacked the personnel more recently.
With pressure from the front line more important in today’s NFL than it has ever been before, however, one wonders how much they can get away with riding their two highly-compensated stars up front without getting reinforcements behind them.
“I think that’s everywhere now, especially since the game comes with a lot of passing”, Hargrave said of seeing teams get that kind of playing time up and down their line. “So you need fresh bodies in there to rush the passer a lot. So I think that’s kind of where it’s going to right now”.