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fordfixer
04-23-2009, 10:48 PM
Defensive linemen difficult to replace

By Scott Brown, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, April 23, 2009

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 21870.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/mostread/s_621870.html)

All three starters on the Steelers' defensive line are in their 30s. Yet, Casey Hampton scoffs at the notion that the clock is ticking on a group that has been vital to the team's success.

"We like fine wine, baby, we get better with age," the veteran nose tackle said. "You bring a guy in, and who is he going to beat out? How many years is he going to have to wait to play if you take him early?"

Even with Hampton and defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel entrenched as starters, the Steelers still figure to address their defensive line early in the NFL Draft this weekend.

Both Hampton and Keisel are going into the final year of their contracts, and acquiring eventual replacements for them, as well as for Smith, won't be easy since the demand for quality defensive linemen generally exceeds supply.

"I guess they're like seven-footers or left-handed pitchers," said NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys vice president of personnel Gil Brandt. "There's not as many around as you would like to have, and so consequently, it's a position that's overdrafted."

Finding linemen who fit the Steelers' scheme has become tougher with more teams targeting players with similar builds in the draft.

Due in part to the success the Steelers have had -- last season they almost became the first team since 1991 to lead the league in rushing, passing and total defense -- the 3-4 has become a defense du jour.

The Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos are making the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Several other teams are incorporating elements of the 3-4 defense into their schemes for this season.

"As more teams play a 3-4 defense," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "there will be an increasing demand on that body type, and that is no secret. They're not hard to find, but they are scarce."

Adding to the difficulty of drafting linemen that can make a successful transition to the NFL: the fact that most college teams play a 4-3 defense.

That means ends in a 3-4 defense either played tackle in college or bulked up considerably when they got to the NFL, as Smith did after the Steelers took him in the fourth round of the 1999 draft.

One prospect who falls into the former category is Southern Cal's Fili Moala.

Projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Moala has the size to play right away as an end in a 3-4 defense. But there will be an adjustment if he gets taken by a team that plays a 3-4 defense since Moala played inside at Southern Cal.

"I think the hardest transition is learning the defense," Moala said. "I don't think the technique is any different. It's basically the same stuff, get off on the ball, use your hands, get separation and locate the ball and just doing it from a wide stance."

If it takes a certain body type to handle constant double teams in a 3-4 defense, linemen also must apply a blue-collar mentality to the position.

"They kind of do the dirty work," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "They have to take a lot of satisfaction from the accomplishment of the defense but really that's what team football is anyhow. It's certainly a different role in the 3-4 than it is in the 4-3."