Anytime you enter a season whether it be a high school football season, a professional football season or highly anticipated chess match, there are always ‘ifs.’ The defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers entering 2012 is the perfect example of one of these ‘ifs’ I’m talking about. They could prove to be dominant or could prove to be a liability on a defense that will unveil several new faces.
IF…. Casey Hampton recovers and rehabs successfully from his ACL injury, the nose tackle position immediately goes from a question mark to a potential strength. Regardless, Hampton will not be an every down guy anyway, but we pretty much knew that.
IF…. Alameda Ta’amu picks up the defense and the responsibilities of being an NFL nose tackle then along with the improving Steve Mclendon, the Steelers suddenly have three viable options at the nose position. Imagine if you will having to deal with a goal line defense with those three clogging the middle? The great thing about each of the options at nose is that you have three guys with various skill sets, experience and ability.
IF…. Things go as most believe they will and Ziggy Hood starts at the right defensive end spot in place of the now retired Aaron Smith, this means you have last year’s first round draft pick Cameron Heyward as your number one defensive end back-up. If you didn’t see the articles on Hood last week, the young man out of the University of Missouri has transformed his body into that of a Greek God over the offseason. Hood is in that year of his career where most expect bigger things from him and he seems primed to do just that.
IF…. Brett Keisel can stay healthy for a full 16 games and into the playoffs, this does two things. First, it keeps a great, high-motor guy on the field with an ability to get his long frame in the quarterback’s passing lane and secondly, it allows defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau the opportunity to move guys around on the line and keep fresh bodies on the field more often.
You can point at any number of reasons for the Steelers loss to Denver in the AFC Wild-Card playoff last year, but it was evident to me that once Keisel and Hampton went out, the game changed dramatically.
Remember, in the 3-4 defense it is not the responsibility of these three positions to get pressure on the quarterback. If they do, it becomes a welcome plus, but the goal is for them to occupy blockers and allow the outside linebackers to take advantage of one-on-one blocking to get to the passer.
The losses of Smith and former back-up nose tackle Chris Hoke to retirement certainly do hurt in terms of experience and leadership, but the Steelers aren’t exactly lacking in either of those departments entering 2012.
IF…. this defensive line unit shuts down the run and allows guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to get around the edges like mad men to bury quarterbacks then the Steelers stand to have a very successful year defensively.
Like everything else in football and in life for that matter, it’s a pretty big ‘IF.’