Acquiring and developing depth is a perpetually ongoing task. It’s very rare to carry out an entire position group from one season to the next, like the Pittsburgh Steelers have this year, for example, along the defensive line—though whether all of them makes the team remains to be seen.
All seven defensive linemen who ended the 2020 season on the 53-man roster are still with the team, though Henry Mondeaux was an in-season practice squad promotion. He figures to be one of the odd men out, with the other side returning, and they also added Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, whom I believe has done enough to merit a roster spot.
The focus has been primarily on Isaiah Buggs and whether he would make the team, and if so, at whose expense, if anybody’s. The third-year lineman has had an impressive camp and preseason, so would make quite a tough cut, but his most direct competitor, Carlos Davis, has done the same.
“I think those guys came in ready this year for training camp”, veteran lineman Tyson Alualu said of the two young pups, video of which was deleted for some reason. “They know what’s expected of them to be backups and play along the line, whether it’s playing defensive end, playing nose tackle. They kind of stepped up, and I think [are] ready to take on that role. When it’s their turn to go in and spell for a guy, there’s no drop-off. They’ve had a good camp. You can tell those guys are ready for the season”.
Buggs was a sixth-round pick in 2019 out of Alabama, where he actually did briefly play under Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. He made the 53-man roster as a rookie, but was a healthy scratch until Stephon Tuitt suffered a season-ending injury. He then played sparely, but showed some potential to develop.
2020 did not show much progress, prior to which they added Davis via the seventh round. He was a slight surprise to make the roster, but then continued his upward ascend, ultimately passing Buggs on the depth chart, and appears set to be the number two nose tackle—though that is uncertain of Buggs also makes the team.
At the end of the day, it’s a great problem for the Steelers to have to decide whether or not to retain a promising young defensive lineman simply because you have too much talent in the trenches. Their expansion of Davis into special teams coverage work also opens up the possibility of dressing six defensive linemen on Sundays, as they did last year with Mondeaux.