There aren’t any big names that really jump out at you for the Steelers free agents on defense this offseason. Thank goodness for that! There are some key players though that played a role in the leagues #1 defense in 2011. Below is a look at that list, for the defense, and our thoughts on who stays and who goes.
Keenan Lewis: With the addition of Carnell Lake to the coaching staff, he finally was able to start realizing his potential. Lewis will be brought back and could be a starter in 2012. He’s got a bright future and the Steelers would do well to bring him back.
Ryan Mundy: Playing behind big names like Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy’s name doesn’t get called as much but he’s a solid, reliable, tackler and overall good Safety that the Steelers should be able to bring back. He knows the defense and can step in when needed. He’s also an ace on special teams.
Steve McLendon: The 2nd year NT got significant playing time in 2011 because of the injuries to Chris Hoke, Casey Hampton, and Aaron Smith. He’s smaller than you normally think at 34 NT should be (280 lbs.) but is very strong and can hold his own. They’ll bring him back as the primary backup in 2012 and he’ll be in the mix to start should Casey Hampton retire.
William Gay: He signed a 1 yr. deal to return to the Steelers this year and definitely earned his money. Gay improved his game significantly thanks in part to his hard work, unselfish attitude, and the addition of Carnell Lake as the Secondary coach.
Chris Hoke: He signed a 1 yr. to play in 2011, but with his neck surgery late in the season it’s widely speculated that he’ll just hang it up. Hokie was a staple behind Casey Hampton his entire career with the Steelers and they went 19-1 when he was in the lineup.
Most likely to return: Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, Steve McLendon.
On the bubble: William Gay. Gay may get some attention in the free agent market because he did have a better season. With the emergence of Lewis, if Gay does come back he’ll be in a dog fight for the starting job opposite Ike Taylor.
Likely gone: Chris Hoke. Bryant McFadden is still under contract through 2012 but he had hamstring issues all during training camp and preseason and is at the bottom of the depth chart in the secondary. He has been largely ineffective the last 2 years. His 2.5 million dollar price tag for 2012 and his poor play means he’s likely gone.