The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will use (potentially significantly) more of its dime defense in 2020.
Explanation: After the defense made pretty liberal use of defensive packages with six defensive backs in 2018, they scaled it back last season, and there were periods in which it was not used at all. There is reason to believe they may be more suited to increasing its usage again in 2020, by a notable degree.
Arguably the biggest factor here is the likely release of Mark Barron. Like it or not, the team viewed him as a linebacker that they can play on third and long in addition to Devin Bush. With Barron’s substantial cap hit relative to his production, and the need to tag Bud Dupree, it’s been easy speculation that he is let go.
Vince Williams would be the player to replace him, and we’ve already seen what the roadmap on third and long looks like when he is a full-time starter. He usually comes off the field in favor of another defensive back.
And they have some options now. You know the starting five, including Mike Hilton, but then you have Cameron Sutton, who largely took over the role. And we can’t forget about Justin Layne making a second-year jump. It’s not unreasonable to expect we could see them use six defensive backs on 20-25 percent of their snaps, depending of course upon game circumstances.
While this is not the only factor, one I would like to mention off the bat is Ulysees Gilbert III. This might sound like a stretch for a sixth-round pick who was on injured reserve for half of his rookie season, but I believe the team sees him as capable of playing sub-package ball. That’s why they drafted him, and they toyed with Terence Garvin doing this years ago already.
Aside from a sub-package linebacker, which is becoming increasingly common, the fact remains that the team prefers a third safety over a fourth cornerback, and they don’t have depth there. Jordan Dangerfield is not going to be the third safety, and Marcus Allen was kept on the practice squad during a year in which they only carried four safeties. It would have to be a draft pick coming in and playing right away.