While it doesn’t sound like the Pittsburgh Steelers will get defensive tackle Javon Hargrave signed to a contract extension prior to the start of the team’s 2019 regular season opener against the New England, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like how he has developed since drafting him in the third-round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of South Carolina State.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it very clear during his Tuesday press conference that Hargrave performed well this year during training camp and the preseason and that the defensive tackle will continue to see more snaps in the team’s sub package defenses in 2019 due to how he’s increased his position flexibility.
“I thought he had a solid performance in camp and in the preseason,” Tomlin said of Hargrave, who is now in the final year of his rookie contract. “I like how he continues to add to his portfolio. I often kid him, a nose guard is like Blockbuster Video, he better diversify. A nose [tackle] doesn’t get an opportunity to play much so he better reinvent himself as a sub package rusher. And he has done that over the last couple of years because of that challenge. And thus he’s made himself more useful to us.
Tomlin went on to say that it won’t matter how the Patriots offense decides to attack the Steelers defense on first down Sunday night in regard to Hargrave and when he might see the field.
“So it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s a major component on first down or if they choose to play in that mode,” Tomlin said. “He still has an opportunity to contribute to our efforts. He still has an opportunity to impact the game because of how he’s developed as a sub package rusher.”
With Hargrave showing that diversification that Tomlin spoke of in his Blockbuster Video analogy, the Steelers head coach was asked if that means that the defensive tackle has essentially and comparably become more Netflix and less VHS over the years.
“Certainly, and he better,” Tomlin said. “Same discussion with Daniel McCullers, you know. It’s just the evolution of roles in this game and opportunities. You’ve got to have those really necessary discussions. You’ve got to be transparent. You’ve got to talk about the elephant in the room and nose guards in the National Football League in 2019 better be able to do other things. Just like fullbacks. Rosie Nix was elected special teams captain. You better have other things that you’re capable of doing to add value to your cause and ours.”
Hargrave is poised to have an awesome 2019 season on the heels of him registering 6.5 sacks, 49 total tackles and a defensed pass last season. Hargrave also posted those 2018 stats in just over 450 total defensive snaps played last season. That equates to roughly 43.5% percent of all defensive snaps last season.
Sunday night against the Patriots, Hargrave will be matched up quite a bit against center Ted Karras, who was scheduled to be a backup interior offensive lineman again this season just less than a few weeks ago. Karras, however, recently became the starter when Patriots starting center David Andrews abruptly had his 2019 season come to an end within the last few weeks due to him having blood clots on his lungs.
The way to beat the Patriots offense and their quarterback Tom Brady is to get consistent and string pressure up the middle. Hargrave showed he could do that in both base and sub package personnel groupings last season so it will be interesting to see if he can have continued success Sunday night and how much he sees the field when only two defensive linemen are used on defense.