Building An All-Time Steelers’ Team, Non-Hall of Famers Edition: Defensive Line

Slowly but surely, we work closer and closer to the start of Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp. To help pass the time, we continue on with my All-Time Steelers’ Team using non-Hall of Famers.

To date, we’ve completed the offense for the all-time team, which can be found below. Today, we’ll move over to the defensive side of the football, starting in the trenches.

In the Steelers’ history, the defensive line has a long, rich tradition overall, starting with Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner in the 50s and 60s, and really peaked with the Steel Curtain in the 70s, featuring Hall of Famer Joe Greene, LC Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes in the trenches.

Then, in the 2000s the Steelers featured the likes of Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Kimo von Olhoffen, and more, leading to the current day Steelers in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

Like I said, a rich history overall.

Of course, not every great Steelers’ defensive lineman has made the Hall of Fame. In fact, just Greene and Stautner are the two Steelers’ defensive linemen in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That leaves a number of great players to choose from for the Steelers’ All-Time Team featuring non-Hall of Famers from years past.

Below is a reminder of how the offense and defense will look for this series, as well as highlighting some of the previous pieces in the series overall.

Offensively, I will set it up using 11 personnel, meaning one running back, one tight end, no fullback, and three wide receivers, mainly because I would want to see this group play in today’s game.

Defensively, I’m using the traditional 3-4 scheme, so no slot cornerback or anything like that. Just a base 3-4. I’ll also select a kicker, punter, and return specialist, giving me 25 players to write about.

Selections made so far:

QB — Kordell Stewart
RB — Le’Veon Bell
WR — Buddy Dial
WR — Louis Lipps
WR — Santonio Holmes
TE — Heath Miller 
LT — Jon Kolb
LG — Ramon Foster
C — Ray Mansfield
RG — Gerry Mullins
RT — Tunch Ilkin

Let’s dive into the defensive line for my Steelers’ All-Time team using non-Hall of Famers, which will use a 3-4 base defense.

The easiest choice for me overall on my 3-4 defensive line is Steelers’ All-Time great LC Greenwood.

Though Greenwood was a 4-3 defensive end during his time with the Steelers from 1969 to 1981, he was a terrific run defender and pass rusher overall, which would make him a fit in any scheme.

A 10th-round pick in 1969 out of Arkansas AM&N (now Arkansas Pine-Bluff), Greenwood developed into one of the best pass rushers in Steelers’ history, being credited with 78.0 sacks for his career following an era-adjusted statistical update from Pro-Football Reference, making him the second-leading sack artist in Steelers’ history, right behind James Harrison.

During his career with the Steelers, Greenwood was named to the Pro Bowl six times and earned two First-Team All-Pro accolades. Twice during his 12-year career with the Steelers, Greenwood hit the 11-sack mark, with those numbers coming in 1971 and 1974. In 170 career games, Greenwood recorded 14 fumble recoveries and was eventually named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team and Hall of Honor, while also being named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s.

Greenwood’s statistics and overall individual accolades are good enough to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, he should already be enshrined there already. The fact that he’s not is a travesty. For this exercise though, he’s an easy choice.

Along with Greenwood, the Steelers’ All-Time team using non-Hall of Famers’ defensive line in my exercise will be bookended by one of the most underrated Steelers in franchise history, that being standout defensive end Aaron Smith.

Smith played for the Steelers from 1999 to 2011 and was part of two Super Bowl championships and an appearance in a third. A fourth-round pick in 1999 out of Colorado State, Smith quickly and quietly developed into a consistent starter in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense.

Though he never was a flashy player and rarely garnered national attention, Smith was one of the most important defenders during the 2000s for the Steelers as a run-stuffing defensive end who could also rush the passer. During his 160 career games in the black and gold, Smith recorded 44.0 career sacks, forced seven fumbles and recorded nine fumble recoveries, adding another 84 career tackles for loss during his career.

Along with a 2004 trip to the Pro Bowl, Smith was also named to Sports Illustrated’s 2000s All-Decade team, signifying how great he was for the Steelers during the decade as the Steelers were consistently one of the best teams in the league year after year, and had a defense that is in the discussion for greatest of all time.

Joining Smith and Greenwood on the Steelers’ 3-4 defense is none other than Casey “Big Snacks” Hampton at nose tackle. While guys like Holmes and White can certainly garner attention for the slot based on their careers, Hampton was one of the most dominant run-stuffing nose tackles in football for a decade, playing an instrumental role in the Steelers’ defense throughout the 2000s.

For 12 seasons, Hampton held down the middle of the Steelers’ defense, tying up blockers to allow the likes of James Farrior, Kendrell Bell, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons to roam freely behind him, making play after play. Though Hampton didn’t put up monster numbers, recording just 398 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 39 tackles for loss in his 12 seasons, Hampton was a highly-regarded player across the league, earning five trips to the Pro Bowl during his time in the black and gold and eventually landing on the Steelers’ All-Time team following his career.

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