While the Pittsburgh Steelers have built a formidable starting 11 on either side of the ball-provided that those 11 are healthy—one issue that they do have is a lack of depth, or at least experienced depth, including at a number of key positions such as edge defender.
With the release of Anthony Chickillo, Pittsburgh has T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as its starters, but behind them are only Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper, a pair of young former undrafted free agents who have very limited regular season experience, and are wholly unproven as being capable in-game reserves.
According to Gerry Dulac, the Steelers find this to be of bigger concern pertaining to their depth than they do at other positions in need of depth, and that is because of one philosophical change in their approach that was made last season.
Beginning in 2019, the defense began to walk back from the premise of the outside linebacker being more of a wildcard that is liable to drop into coverage as much as he is rushing the patter. Both Dupree and Watt spent the vast majority of their time getting after the quarterback on passing downs last season, which is more in line with what even other 3-4 teams have been doing for some time.
Because of the increased number of pass-rushing reps, however, which are more physically demanding, the Steelers believe it is more important to make sure that they have quality rotational depth at the position, which is something that Chickillo provided as somebody who has been in the system for years and has some starting experience.
Watt did have to leave a few games last season due to getting banged up, and some of that could be attributed to the fact that he is spending so much time battling right tackles now. That physical endurance and durability will be more important for the position than it ever has been in team history as a result.
Each of Adeniyi and Skipper have one strong preseason under their belts, the former’s coming in 2018 as a rookie and the latter’s in 2019, when he came out of college, but you can’t rely upon that as evidence that they can be trusted to spell some of your most important defensive players in a significant capacity in 2020.
So from the sounds of it, the Steelers will be looking for a pass rusher to add to the mix during this draft as a higher priority than some might think, and the reasoning behind it is sound. But sometimes you don’t get the chance to do what you want and simply have to go with what you’ve got. We will know in about a week or so what hand they’ll be playing with.