The last of a position-by-position analysis of the Steelers as they are about to report to training camp at Saint Vincent College. Today’s installment focuses on the defense:
Even though the entire defense has undergone quite the facelift/youth movement over the past couple of summers, as this camp begins there aren’t any open competitions for the 11 starting spots.
This group’s starters are Cam Heyward and
To those within the organization, Heyward already is seen as a team leader, a linchpin, a significant presence in the locker room. This type of status within a professional sports team only is earned with on-field production, and Heyward works too hard and cares too much not to continue to be productive. Being great is the next step for him.
The defense is going to need McLendon to take the next step in his development. Already having come a long way – from an undrafted rookie from Troy to an NFL starter – McLendon should use these upcoming afternoons vs.
There figures to be s sixth spot, at least, available to a defensive lineman on the opening 53-man roster, and that competition looks to be wide open. Just as it often happens with offensive linemen, availability for practice every day, which is the key to improvement, can be the difference.
The development of this group is the most significant issue for the Steelers defense in 2014, because the linebackers in a 3-4 scheme are most often the catalyst for big plays. And the Steelers are going to need more big plays – sacks and takeaways – from this defense than they managed in either 2012 or 2013.
The starters right now are
Since 2000, the Steelers never have been serious contenders in any season where they didn’t get lots of big plays from their linebackers, and so even though camp opens with the starters set it will be interesting to see how the quartet uses August to develop and establish an identity.
The next order of business here is rounding out the depth chart, and right now the possibilities seem quite interesting.
Similar to the offensive line, it would be nice for the four starters to be able to work as a unit throughout this process, unencumbered by the nagging injuries that can rob them of practice time. There is some real talent here, but it’s all new: either new to the NFL, new to the Steelers, new to the starting lineup, or new to this group of linebackers. It would be helpful if this camp turned new into familiar.
The only difference in the starting group is
Last year the Steelers defense, particularly the secondary, didn’t catch up to too many mistakes, as evidenced by the fact the unit allowed 17 plays of 40-plus yards. Seventeen. The Steelers barely allowed 17 plays of 40-plus yards in the five complete seasons from 2008-12.
To the consternation of their fans, the Steelers didn’t get around to addressing their secondary until the fifth round of the 2014 draft when they selected cornerback