Will the Steelers continue to let the rookies play on defense with the new scheme in 2015?
Steelers new defensive coordinator Keith Butler has already made it known that he plans to run more of a hybrid defense next season. With variations of the 3-4, 4-3, and sub-packages, a hybrid D requires a variety of players, especially in the front-seven, to play a variety of positions at any given time. One of the bigger downfalls of Dick LeBeau’s strict 3-4 zone-blitz scheme was the time it took for players to develop, and the time it took for draft picks to get on the field.
This past season, some rookies and young guys were thrown into the fire immediately. Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones couldn’t shake the injury bug unfortunately, but Stephon Tuitt played admirably after replacing Brett Keisel and should make the leap in 2015. His development in limited playing time was impressive. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new trend in Pittsburgh – let draft picks play early.
Given that some 4-3 schemes will be implemented, some players from college should be able to adapt much quicker than the 3-4. This would allow any defensive ends or outside linebackers the Steelers draft to at least have a spot in some formations. Either way, the youth movement needs to continue as Pittsburgh looks to get younger, faster, and better for the 2015 season.
Knowing that an upgrade is needed in the pass-rushing department, it’s safe to assume any high picks that can help will be in there as soon as possible. The real question is at cornerback, and whether or not Pittsburgh trusts Shamarko Thomas to take over at strong safety for Troy Polamalu, who has most likely played his last game. Don’t quote me on that.
While guys like Shazier, Jones, and Tuitt need to have big seasons, it is imperative that the Steelers select a top cornerback prospect and let him develop in real-time from day one. There’s no sense in sitting a guy behind the likes of Cortez Allen and Brice McCain – however McCain did play pretty well. He’s not a lockdown corner, and Pittsburgh desperately needs one. William Gay had a great season, so pairing him with a top rookie with Allen, McCain, and Antwon Blake behind them should significantly improve the secondary.
Thomas has been waiting for his turn, and has seen playing time sparingly in his first two seasons. Rumor has it the Steelers have been grooming him to play natural strong safety, which is the reason he was left out of a lot of nickel and sub-packages in 2014. He seems to fit the mold for the position – he is a low-to-the-ground, fast, hard-hitter that has shown he can tackle well when he sees the field.
If Thomas is ready to go and a top corner prospect is allowed to play immediately, I see no reason why the secondary won’t also be faster and better along with the rest of the defense. The onus is on Butler to forego the “rookies don’t play” tradition and continue the defensive overhaul.