Depth is still a concern among Steelers' defensive end position
By Neal Coolong on May 31 2014
It's an issue of experience more than anything else. With some cap space coming, it's not out of the question the Steelers look to bring Brett Keisel back while the young defensive ends continue to develop.
Ziggy Hood didn't start a game in his rookie season of 2009 but that doesn't mean he didn't accomplish something rare on the Steelers' defense.
He actually played. And not just special teams, mind you. He logged no less than 16 snaps a game over the final eight games that year, filling in for an injured Aaron Smith as the Steelers' Super Bowl championship defense effort fizzled out.
The Steelers aren't defending a championship in 2014 - far from it - but they're currently faced with the same kind of choice. They can either determine rookie second round pick Stephon Tuitt is capable of playing something to the effect of 14 snaps a game at defensive end as a rookie, or they can bring in a veteran stop-gap.
And by that, of course, the inference is longtime Steelers DE Brett Keisel.
Keisel, 35, remains in free agency, and the undertone of the offseason has been Keisel could be brought back to provide depth and leadership on a defensive line that's largely been overhauled this offseason. Hood is now in Jacksonville, Al Woods is in Tennessee. Keisel's likely out hunting somewhere while the new Steelers - Tuitt and veteran Cam Thomas - join 2013 rookies Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt - as the likely main competitors for roster spots along the defensive end depth chart.
There are reasons for optimism among the attributes for all of those players, but there is a lot of unknown as well. It's tempting for the Steelers - who will get a surge of cap space June 2 when the contract of LaMarr Woodley clears their books - to consider bringing Keisel in to bridge a gap in experience.
No guarantees can, or should be given. He may not start. The clear leader from a production standpoint is Cameron Heyward, and it isn't likely Steve McLendon's starting nose tackle position will be challenged. Thomas was signed to be the utility player Woods was but could also be considered that stop-gap while the heir apparent - likely Tuitt with competition from Arnfelt and Williams - continues to develop.