Steelers' position outlook: Defensive line
Steelers' position outlook: Defensive line
May, 22, 2014
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
Who is new: Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract in March, and the former Charger, also known as "Baby Zilla," can play nose tackle and defensive end. The Steelers took Tuitt, a defensive end, in the second round of the draft. They used the second of their two sixth-round selections on McCullers, a 6-7, 352-pound defensive tackle.
Who is gone: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. Keisel, who has started at defensive end for the Steelers since 2006, remains unsigned. Hood and Woods signed with the Jaguars and Titans, respectively, as unrestricted free agents.
Returning starters: Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon. Heyward played sparingly his first two seasons in Pittsburgh but he showed in 2013 why the Steelers could no longer keep him off the field. Heyward supplanted Hood as a starter five games into last season, and the 2011 first-round pick led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures and tied for second on the team with five sacks. McLendon took over for five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton at nose tackle and probably received too much blame for the Steelers yielding 4.3 yards per carry last season. McLendon has received several votes of confidence from the Steelers this offseason, and he should be better in his second season as a starter. "I'm not worried about him at this time," defensive line coach John Mitchell said.
Most significant addition: Tuitt. The former Notre Dame star already has an NFL body and the 6-5, 303-pounder should play immediately given the Steelers' need at defensive end. The Steelers were elated that Tuitt lasted until their pick in the second round of the draft. They will be even happier if he develops quickly enough to start sooner rather than later opposite Heyward.
Most significant loss: Keisel. The unquestioned leader of the defensive line and a Steelers captain, Keisel finished third on the team with 26 quarterback pressures last season and also recorded four sacks despite missing four-plus games because of a nagging foot injury. The Steelers haven't shown any inclination to bringing Keisel back for a 13th season, which is curious considering how thin they are at defensive end.
On outside looking in: McCullers. The Tennessee product is probably a project more than a player who can provide immediate help up front. McCullers will have to prove to the Steelers he can play with the necessary pad level at nose tackle, and that will be a challenge given his sheer size.
Hidden number: McLendon had nine quarterback pressures last season -- only two less than outside linebacker Jarvis Jones -- despite playing only 338 snaps and coming off the field on passing downs.
Outlook: A defensive line that had been anchored for years by Keisel, Hampton and Aaron Smith has gotten very young. Heyward is the leader of the unit, and he only turned 25 a couple of weeks ago. The biggest question is who will start opposite Heyward. Right now it looks like a rotation of Thomas, Tuitt and Brian Arnfelt or Nick Williams will be used at right defensive end. The Steelers should also keep Keisel on call -- if he doesn't sign elsewhere -- in case some of the young players at defensive end don't progress quickly enough.
Is Brett Keisel on Steelers' radar?
MAY 29, 2014
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH -- Heath Miller is many things.
Keisel Revealing during an interview is not one of them.
But the Steelers tight end may have provided a hint on Brett Keisel’s future Thursday after Miller talked about what it’s like to be one of the longest-tenured players on the team.
Miller was reflecting on when he was one of the younger players on the Steelers and looked up to veterans such as linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith, who each played long after their 30th birthday.
Then he said, “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”
"Not here right now" implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.
I could be reading too much into Miller’s comment, but it dovetails with the sense it makes for the Steelers to bring back Keisel for another season.
First and foremost, there is no clear-cut starter at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward.
Cam Thomas has been working with the first team during OTAs, but the Steelers signed the former San Diego Charger to serve as a swing man who plays both defensive end and nose tackle.
Rookie Stephon Tuitt should figure into the mix at right defensive end but it may not be realistic to expect the second-round draft pick to develop quickly enough to start next season.
And who better to mentor Tuitt than Keisel, who also could play in some sort of rotation at right defensive end.
The timing for re-signing Keisel is right as the Steelers will receive more than $8 million in salary-cap room on Tuesday from releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in March.
Stay tuned on this front.
Also from the Steelers’ third OTA session:
Strong safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and running back Dri Archer were among those not in attendance on Thursday.
Center Maurkice Pouncey did not practice but that probably resulted from the Steelers not wanting the Pro Bowler to push himself too much in his return from a torn ACL.
Antonio Brown said he is willing to return punts this season but it sounds like a duty the Pro Bowl wide receiver wouldn’t mind passing off to one of his teammates. The Steelers have had a handful of players fielding punts during OTAs, including Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant. When asked if that means he will be replaced in that role, Brown smiled. “They say that every year and I’m back there, so we’ll see,” the fourth-year veteran said. “I’ll let Coach [Mike Tomlin] decide.”
Miller, who is going into his 10th NFL season, said he has not put a timetable on how much longer he wants to continue playing. The Steelers signed Miller to a three-year contract in March. “I just want to play as long as my body will allow me to,” he said, “so we’ll see where that takes me.”
Nick Williams has definitely bulked up from last year, hope he plays well this pre-season...
Nick williams is a big time sleeper
Should have singed Carrington, id feel sooooo good about the defense
Mark Kaboly @MarkKaboly_Trib:
Originally Posted by K Train
Steelers DE Nick Williams was in his helmet and working out with team during individual drills today. Good sign for him.
Lots of young guys who we hope have some upside. I would think since we are so young here it may take some time for this group to round into form. It could be a special group with some depth. This will be a group I'll be watching closely at Latrobe this summer.
Wow. Nick looks like he's really bulked up from last year! Bigtime sleeper for sure.
Spring “rocky” for second-round pick Stephon Tuitt
The Steelers used a second-round draft choice on Stephon Tuitt and minutes after he was selected defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Tuitt would add quality depth, if not start as a rookie.
The same thing was said about first-round pick Ryan Shazier, only the coaches treated the first two picks in a much different manner this spring. Shazier lined up with the starters on the first day of spring practices and stayed there until the end of the minicamp Thursday. He’ll be there again when the team reports to training camp next month.
Tuitt played on the second team behind free agent addition Cam Thomas all spring. And while there is plenty of time for him to earn a starting job in training camp, it’s clear he’ll have to a good July and August to unseat Thomas.
Traditionally, defensive linemen have a harder time learning the defense than any other position. Aaron Smith, who is regarded as one of the finest 3-4 ends on franchise history, only dressed for six games as a rookie and started none. Cam Heyward, the 2011 first-round draft pick, didn’t earn a starting job until midway through his third NFL season last year.
Tuitt has been in possession of the playbook for a little more than a month and he’s nowhere near comfortable.
“It’s rocky,” he said with a laugh. “But I’ve been in this system now for a couple of weeks and I’m understanding the playbook and understanding my role and understanding the system.”
If Tuitt doesn’t make a big leap at training camp, Thomas could be the starter for the first game against the Browns. He played every defensive line position for the Chargers the past few years and while he still isn’t completely comfortable with his surroundings he’s in a better place than Tuitt.
“I’m just ready for the pads to come on and for the season to start,” Thomas said. “Everything feels good. There’s nothing unique about it. It’s just playing football every day.”
Thomas played most nose tackle for the Chargers last season, but he has experience at end.
Eventually, the Steelers envision Thomas as a swing player in the mold of Al Woods, who left in free agency to sign with Tennessee.
But in the short term he could end up starting while Tuitt learns the ropes.
“Cam doesn’t have to learn a lot,” defensive line coach John Mitchell said. “At San Diego he played inside and outside. Cam is a guy that is going to give us a few options. He can play the five technique or the three technique. At San Diego he played inside as a one technique and a three technique. We will start him off as an end. He gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Position preview: Nose tackle
July, 11, 2014
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
Next up in a series that looks at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching, it's the Steelers' nose tackles.
Returning starter: Steve McLendon. The former undrafted free agent admittedly struggled with the expectations that came with replacing five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton last season. McLendon seems more sure of himself, adding 20 pounds to deal with the physical demands of playing nose tackle.
New faces: Daniel McCullers and Al Lapuaho. The mammoth McCullers was the second of the Steelers’ two sixth-round draft picks. Lapuaho signed with the Steelers in January after spending part of last season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad.
On the bubble: McCullers. The 6-7, 352-pound man-child has to beat out Hebron Fangupo, who spent all of last season on the 53-man roster, and don’t count out Lapuaho. Starting defensive end Cameron Heyward said Lapuaho really stood out during offseason practices.
By the numbers: The 115.6 rushing yards per game that the Steelers yielded last season were the most since they gave up 122.4 rushing yards per game in 1999.
Did you know: McLendon has incorporated ballet in his training since he took a dance class at Troy. McLendon said he doesn’t do as much ballet as he used to but that it is still part of his regimen.
Quotable: “I can't be down there at 310 [pounds], trying to play a spot where guys are 330-plus. I need to be heavy just like them and be able to move faster and quicker than them.” -- McLendon on why he added weight during the offseason.
Outlook: McLendon still has to prove that he is the long-term answer at nose tackle, but he appears to be in a much better position to play well this season, both from a physical and mental standpoint. He could also stay on the field during some passing downs, providing an inside rush with Heyward when the Steelers go to their nickel defense. Fangupo played sparingly last season, but the Steelers’ coaches know what they have in him. Anything the Steelers get from McCullers is a bonus, as the Tennessee product may need a season on the practice squad before he is ready to contribute.
fangupu is interesting, always has been. Hes 28 years old already but he could be a candidate to contribute. hes more of a natural NT than mcclendon i think, and for 3 years now weve heard how much weight steve has put on but he never keeps in on