After an offseason that saw the Steelers lose the likes of outside linebacker Bud Dupree, inside linebacker Vince Williams and cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, the Steelers’ defense might look a little different on Sunday, at least on paper.
In steps young pass rusher Alex Highsmith to replace Dupree, while the Steelers traded for Joe Schobert to replace Williams and made a late move to acquire Akhello Witherspoon to provide depth at cornerback. That doesn’t even touch on the signing of veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram to provide depth on the edge behind T.J. Watt and Highsmith, nor does it touch on the offseason Stephon Tuitt has sadly found himself going through, eventually landing on injured reserve to start the season, elevating Chris Wormley into a starting role.
This isn’t the same defense of the last two years that has been dominant week to week. It’s a new look, one that will be tested right away on the road against the explosive Buffalo Bills’ offense led by star quarterback Josh Allen.
Veteran defensive end and team captain Cameron Heyward has plenty of faith in some of the new faces on the defensive side of the football though ahead of Week 1.
“I feel very confident in our group,” Heyward said while speaking to reporters Thursday. “You know, I think we have a very sound unit, um, to be honest, you know, from back end to front end. I feel like we have a lot of moving parts, but, you know, a good blend of old and new, and I just look that we mesh early because it’s going to be on us. You know, there’s going to be a lot of hiccups on the other side with a lot of newer guys. So, the defense has got to be very steady going forward.”
Heyward is right in the sense that the Steelers’ defense will have to carry the load — at least early on – in the 2021 season as the offense works in a number of new, young faces on offense, including rookies Dan Moore Jr., Kendrick Green, Najee Harris, and Pat Freiermuth, along with new right guard Trai Turner, making for a tricky situation.
While some faces have changed on defense for the Steelers, having leaders like Heyward, Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden in the fold should help ease some of the transition issues the Steelers may deal with on that side of the ball early in the year.