While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line should get a big boost with the healthy return of Stephon Tuitt, that doesn’t change the fact that the loss of Javon Hargrave in free agency was a big hit, and one can argue that the team didn’t sufficiently move to replace him.
But that will really be determined by those who are asked to step up in his place, and I think not even the coaching staff necessarily knows who that will be yet. And when it comes to their primary defensive package, the nickel, it really won’t matter.
Cameron Heyward has been a part of that group, and of the defense as a whole, longer than anybody else. He has also been recognized as the team’s defensive captain for the past few years, so he tends to be credible on this subject. He weighed in on the line late last week during a virtual conference call.
“I think we have a great group of guys that can play a multitude of spots”, he said. “We can move them all around. I think that’s what made Hargrave so great, is he was able to move around. Obviously, we’re gonna ask a lot of other guys, whether it’s Dan McCullers or Tyson Alualu. I look for those guys to step up”.
But he wasn’t relying on just those players—or even the names you might be most familiar with. He brought up one name, for example, that you might not be familiar with, and he has already worked with another this offseason—Henry Mondeaux, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.
“You add guys like Chris Wormley to the group, and I look for the younger guys to step up, whether it’s a Cavon Walker or Carlos Davis, guys who you might not have known and are new to the Steeler way, but we’ve got to get those guys up and running”, Heyward said.
Walker is a former 2018 undrafted free agent out of Maryland who was signed by the Steelers in March after the XFL had to close its doors. If memory serves, he led the XFL in sacks. It’s interesting to hear Heyward bring up his name. Less so far Davis, who of course was a draft pick this year.
But the Steelers will welcome anybody who can come in and help, whether that’s first-year future signing Dewayne Hendrix out of Pittsburgh, or a pair of rookie undrafted free agents, Josiah Coatney and Calvin Taylor, who at 6’9” rivals Alejandro Villanueva and Christian Scotland-Williamson.
Of course, the player I’m really interested in learning more about is Isaiah Buggs, the sixth-round pick out of Alabama last year. I think he can offer a little something more similar to Hargrave, if allowed to play in that mode, than some of the other candidates.