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Steelers preseason: Who and what to watch on defense

I’m one who enjoys watching preseason games just to see the young guys because in many cases that’s the only time you see them all year unless injuries hit the starters. This year though things are different, there are many positions up for grabs so these preseason games take on more significance than usual.

On defense there are many things to watch for as you take in these games over the next few weeks.  As per usual, you won’t see any exotic blitzes, no Troy Polamlu jumping over the offensive line anticipating the snap count, etc. It’s all very vanilla, basic coverages and blocking schemes.

Above beyond all else in preseason, you want to get out of the games healthy. Winning is nice but, you want to get your young guys a lot of reps and avoid any significant injuries, especially to the starters.

The defense for preseason as far as starters go is usually a mixed bag of starters and backups for the first half. By the second half it’s all reserves. Depending on who’s available health wise will help determine that. Either way in Game 1 the primary starters available will play for the first few series normally and then the big names comes out. In game 2 they normally go for about a quarter. Game 3 they are in for the whole half. Game 4 the big names again come out early. With injuries to guys like Harrison, many backups will gets reps early and often.

Defensive Line:

Steve McLendon vs Alameda Ta’amu: Casey Hampton is still on the PUP list so he won’t see much action in preseason, if at all. During this past offseason, McLendon has put on weight and now clocks in around 325 lbs. If you’re looking for a traditional style 34 nose tackle, then he’s definitely looking the part. He’s also been having a great camp and at this point is likely going to start the regular season. The rooke Ta’amu is also getting significant work in camp but the coaches weren’t exactly thrilled with the shape he showed up in when camp started. He’s taking his lumps and learning as he goes but Dick Lebeau isn’t keen on rookies starting on his defense. Ta’amu will likely get the bulk of the work against the Eagles and we’ll get a good look at how he handles the double teams, shedding blocks, and possibly getting a pass rush too.

Cameron Heyward: He was ruled out of the first game against the Eagles but assuming he’s able to return his reps will be important to his continued growth and experience. He’s not likely to overthrow Ziggy Hood for the starting job, but he’s still going to get a lot of reps during August. He’s the primary backup now at both DE positions. He’s got brute strength to spare, now we want to see how he handles his blocking. Does he get swallowed up or pushed aside out of the play? Is he able to flow down the line towards the ball while controlling his gap?

Young talent: Beyond the starters and Cam Heyward, I’m interested to see Ikponmwosa Igbinosun get his chance on the line. Corbin Bryant, Al Woods, players like this will be fighting for precision few roster spots behind the starters. As with Heyward, watch how they hold their blocks, control their gaps, and flow to the ball.

Cornerbacks:

Keenan Lewis vs Curtis Brown vs Cortez Allen: All 3 of these guys will get their chance to start throughout the preseason, and rotate in the nickle and dime packages for Carnell Lake and Lebeau. So far in camp all 3 are doing very well so it’s still a toss up as to who wins the starting job ultimately. Allen is considered the favorite by many but Lewis has that experience factor that the coaches love. Watch to see how they stick to their man; watch their hips to see if they get turned around on a route.Do they get caught looking in the backfield too long and lose track of their man? Even though the Steeler DB’s play off of their man, once they get in contact with them they need to stick and stay.

Safety:

Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are both established veterans, the coaches know what they are about so expect see guys like Ryan Mundy, Will Allen, Myron Rolle, and Da-mon Cromartie-Smith to see the bulk of the action. Mundy is the primary backup and Allen is the established veteran backup as well. Rolle and Cromartie-Smith have a tough road to grab that final spot behind Mundy and overthrow Will Allen. Watch for them to see how they react to pass coverage; do they leave gaps open in the middle of the field? Are they able to close quickly enough to make the play and take the correct angles?

Linebackers:

Inside Linebacker: Larry Foote is the starter as of now and he is likely to remain there. He’s the new signal caller in place of James Farrior and the coaches are comfortable with him. Behind Foote though we’ll get a chance to see Stevenson Sylvester & Sean Spence as well. Brandon Johnson is fighting some injuries early so his status is questionable but assuming he gets healthy he’ll be in the mix with Sylvester. Mortyy Ivy and marshall McFadden will get a lot of looks as well. keep an eye on how they all get off blocks, how they flow down the line towards the ball. Can they keep up in pass coverage against tight ends and running backs? Watch how quickly they adjust and close in on the receiver.

Outside Linebackers: James Harrison won’t play, Woodley will see limited action, and Jason Worilds is still on the PUP. This is going to be a great chance to see Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson get the bulk of the work here. Both are having good camps and will get valuable experience in this game and all through preseason. Watch how they handle the offensive tackles; what types of moves do they display? Is their bull rush effective, do they have quick enough feet to get around their man?

Above all else, enjoy the games because that’s what being an NFL fan is all about and if you’re interested, watching individual matchups can be a lot of fun too.

 

 

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