Yesterday I brought you a preview of the offensive position battles we at SA expect to see as training camp unfolds in less than a month. Today, I’m shifting to the defense where key battles at corner, nose tackle and inside linebacker are sure to be among the most hostile.
Often the red-headed step-child of the 3-4 defense, the nose tackle position has always been under-appreciated by the masses but praised and worshiped by those in the know. With longtime stalwart Casey Hampton coming off ACL surgery and being in the twilight of his career, the battle for the all important back-up spot is on.
Steve McLendon showed tremendous promise last season and defensive line coach John Mitchell has raved about him throughout the offseason. He will be challenged by rookie Alameda Ta’Amu who was a steal in the 4th round of the draft this spring. It’s very possible we could see McLendon starting and Ta’Amu in the back-up role as the season starts depending upon the health of Hampton.
Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood will all see major minutes at the end positions in 2012. Brought in to challenge for playing time is third year man Al Woods along with Corbin Bryant from Northwestern. Two rookie free agents are Ikponmwosa Igbinosun from Southern Connecticut State and Jake Stoller from Yale.
With the end position being a little thin on experience, any of the four guys mentioned could challenge for some back-up duty. Smart money would be on Woods, but this should be an interesting position to watch come camp time.
Here’s what we know, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are your starters and then who knows after that? It’s a big year for several guys including Woodley who missed a great deal of last season with hamstring issues after signing a huge contract last offseason.
Jason Worilds played decently in relief but this is clearly a make or break year for him and it didn’t start well as he broke his wrist in mini camp but he should be ready by the time the Steelers get to Latrobe.
The Steelers must find suitable reserve OLB’s because they cannot afford to keep moving Lawrence Timmons from inside to out. Those reserve jobs will be fought for viciously by a host of guys brought in for just that reason. Is it Morty Ivy or Chris Carter’s time? We’ll see.
Larry Foote is destined to take the reins from the departed James Farrior both at the inside spot and in terms of potential leadership. He will pair with Lawrence Timmons in standard 3-4 defensive alignments, but the wild-cards are suddenly Miami, Florida rookie Sean Spence and 3rd year guy Stevenson Sylvester who, like Worilds, must make his time now!
Sly’s advantage is that he is an excellent special teams guy but that will only keep him around so long especially if Spence can do the same. I’ll take a look at some of the rookies when we break them all down in July.
At the right cornerback position will be Ike Taylor. At the left will be…..? Smart money right now is on Keenan Lewis but he is going to be pushed significantly by Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. Regardless of who wins the spot, the two on the outside will still see significant time on the field with teams consistently in 3 and 4 wide sets.
Two rookies to keep on eye on here are Terrence Frederick and Terry Carter. Carter was very impressive in offseason workouts and Frederick plays a smart corner position without being flashy. Having good, back-up corners is a must in today’s NFL.
Veterans Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark will anchor the back end of the defense once again but how much longer can they do so at a high level? There has been some discussion of moving Cortez Allen back there at some point, but we haven’t seen too much evidence of that yet. Ryan Mundy is a solid back-up but is clearly a step down from both Polamalu and Clark
There won’t be any question as to who the most intelligent guy on the field is when Myron Rolle is out there. The former Rhodes’ Scholar is not overly gifted athletically, but he has good size and could push for a roster spot. Rookie Robert Golden from Arizona will be pushing for a roster spot as well Damon Cormartie-Smith. Obviously the top three look safe in Dick LeBeau’s defense, but the fight for another spot will be a toss up and special teams participation always plays a key.
Check back with us in the coming weeks when we’ll start breaking the spots down position-by-position more in depthly.