Campbell: What To Fix First – Offensive Or Defensive Line?

With the free agency tampering period officially open, now is the time all Steeler fans have been waiting for. With a wealth of salary cap room compared to year’s past, perhaps this will be the year the team goes big-gam hunting and signs an impact player or two. Arguably their biggest need is at quarterback, where reports are just coming in that the team has signed the former #2 pick in the 2017 draft, Mitchell Trubisky. With him now in the fold, it remains to be seen if they’ll still attempt to draft a QB high, but they can turn their attention to two other need areas, and both reside in the trenches on each side of the ball.

Last season, for the first time in many seasons, longtime stalwarts along the offensive line like center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro, and tackle Alejandro Villanueva were all gone due to retirement and free agency. The results on the field spoke for themselves, as future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger’s sack numbers skyrocketed, and rookie Pro Bowl running back Najee Harris was held to a pedestrian 3.9 YPC, many of which were created by him, not the work of the line.

While rookie left tackle Dan Moore Jr. showed some promise and the potential to man the spot for awhile, fellow rookie center/guard Kendrick Green took his lumps, oftentimes getting overwhelmed by defenders. The jury is out on whether Green’s future remains at center or shifting back to guard, as he did in college, but the facts remains that the unit as a whole needs fortified. Trubisky does possess the mobility element the front office has stated it’s seeking, as evidenced by the 4.67 40 he ran at the 2017 NFL Combine. If ownership hopes to prevent him running for his life, then reinforcements are needed.

On the flip side of the ball, the defensive line also sticks out as a need area, considering the age of the three starters, two of which missed the overwhelming majority of the season last year. The return of Stephon Tuitt would be a huge boost to a defense that ranked 32nd against the run.

A lot of blame has been put at the feet of the D-line for the miserable inside linebacker play as well last year, frequently getting beat off the snap and flowing to the second level instead to engulf defenders instead of occupying gaps. The other starter at defensive end, All-Pro Cameron Heyward, will turn 33 prior to the start of the season, and Tyson Alualu will turn 35. Labeling the group as “long in the tooth” would be accurate, and Tuitt’s return is far from a guarantee. Rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk showed some promise down the stretch, but remains to be seen if he can provide starting-level play to the unit. When the Steelers’ defense is at their best, the linebackers are roaming freely and making splash plays all over the field.

Last season’s struggles can be summed up in a nutshell during the team’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings in December, where running back Dalvin Cook ran for 205 yards, and often looked as if he wasn’t even touched until 20 yards into the secondary.

Plenty of names have been thrown around as potential free agent fits on each side of the ball, as the team looks to not only get younger but also maintain their playoff-caliber play of last season. Which side of the ball do you feel needs the most attention paid to it? Let me know in the comment section below, as free agency is finally upon us.

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