Top to bottom, the strongest position on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line is its defense. It all, of course, starts at the top. The duo of Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, perhaps the 1-2 interior line punch in the entire NFL. Tyson Alualu has found the fountain of youth in the middle, a 34-year old playing like someone ten years younger. Behind the first three, Heyward has been impressed by the couple of guys behind him. Ones who could be just one snap away from ascending into a starting role.
After Thursday’s final training camp practice, Heyward heaped praise on the rest of the group.
“I think Loudermilk has done really well this being as his first year,” Heyward told reporters in attendance. “Carlos Davis has been big for us. Not having that true offseason last year for our rookies, this year allowed them to take that next step. I think Carlos is coming in better shape, knows what’s expected out of him.”
Loudermilk has been given young Heyward comparisons by teammates and coaches, though Heyward himself has been quick to play down that storyline. As our Jonathan Heitritter wrote, Loudermilk still has plenty of room to grow and assuming he makes the 53, he’s likely to spend his rookie season inactive. But he has played well and improved, separating himself from some of the other guys he’s battling with. Davis is an impressive athlete with a quick get-off and moves well enough to even play on special teams. He’s still fighting Isaiah Buggs for the backup nose tackle spot.
Heyward’s also taken notice of the more veteran backup defensive linemen.
“Then I look at a guy like Henry Mondeaux and Chris Wormley. I thought Chris could be a big part of our team coming into this year. And I think he he’s taken another step. I think having him here, he knows what’s expected and he just feels more comfortable. Not having the offseason, like I said, really put a lot of guys back, whether you’re a rookie or a free agent as well.”
Mondeaux is another plus athlete and probably the only defensive lineman in the league to regularly run down kicks a year ago. Wormley was traded from Baltimore last year and missed out on having a full offseason with the team due to COVID. Similar to a rookie, he’s able to be part of all aspects of team-building and his play – not to mention health – has reflected it. He’s taken first team reps all summer with Stephon Tuitt absent and enjoyed a good camp.
When it comes to whittle this group down to 53, the Steelers will have hard decisions to make. Heyward didn’t even mention Isaiah Buggs’ name in talking about the group. These guys have been among the most talented and competitive players along the roster and there will be some serious talent unable to crack the 53.