Hey everyone! I am back for round two of grading our beloved Steelers. This time around, we’ll be taking a look at the ballyhoo’ed defense. If you missed part one when I graded the offense, click this link. Without further ado, let’s break this team down:
Defensive Line: Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel, Cam Heyward, Ziggy Hood
Ugh. Much like the offensive line, the potential here is through the roof. But, the defensive line played quite sub-par in 2012 minus the hustle of Brett Keisel. Steve McLendon is a young powerhouse at nose tackle, and he produced effectively every time he saw the field last season. It’s high time Heyward and Hood start producing like high draft picks, this could be a make or break year for both of them. If they can put it together and McLendon and Keisel continue to play well, this unit should be formidable this season. Until I see it happen, I can’t go higher than a C.
Inside Linebacker: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence, Vince Williams
This unit gets a B solely because Lawrence “The Terminator” Timmons as an absolute beast. Yeah, I gave him that nickname. Veteran Larry Foote is the projected starter next to him in the middle, but beyond those two there’s plenty of jobs up for grabs. We don’t know about Sean Spence’s future with his knee injury. Sylvester was re-signed to a one year deal, which I assume means it’s boom or bust time for him. Vince Williams is a hungry rookie who on tape looks like he could jump Spence and Sylvester. All I know for sure is when the dust settles, one of the three will be the clear third option and eventual replacement for Foote. The Steelers groom linebackers, so I am not worried in the least about what transpires in the middle. Timmons has been so good lately that the Steelers just need someone to play adequate football along side him for the time being. Foote can do that.
Outside Linebacker: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones
This grade would have been higher if I had a crystal ball that told me LaMarr Woodley would be back to his normal self and Jarvis Jones will come in and dominate like a first round pick. However, Woodley is already training hard to get himself back to his dominating ways. Jason Worilds has shown flashes of ability. But in my eyes, everything rests on Jarvis Jones. If he can grasp the defense right away and he gets a shot to start, look out. He will be an upgrade over the production of the oft-injured James Harrison the last two seasons, and he should beat out the inconsistent Worilds. But, I don’t expect Worilds to hand over the job without a fight. So whoever lines up across from Woodley will have earned it and be ready to go. Once again, a few questions but no real worries here.
Cornerback: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian, Terry Hawthorne, Justin King
It boggles my mind that some people seem to think the secondary was a weak spot in 2012. Sure, sure, I know, the Steelers lost Keenan Lewis. But I happen to believe Cortez Allen is going to be better than Lewis. He’s big, fast, and showed in his partial playing time that he has a knack for creating turnovers. Ike Taylor will be the same old Ike, consistent and solid. He seems to keep getting better with age. The Steelers will most likely not keep all seven of these guys, I predict Victorian or King being the odd man out. Fifth round draft pick Terry Hawthorne could easily jump up to fourth, right behind projected nickel corner William Gay. Heck, he could even pass Gay at some point. Van Dyke is a burner and will probably make the team based on speed alone, but he has some catching up to do in the fundamentals department. I give the secondary a B- because they have two very good starters and a veteran nickel guy, with youth and depth behind them.
Safety: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas
A healthy Troy Polamalu is arguably the best safety in the league. Ryan Clark has held his own and been the anchor of the defense in Troy’s absences. Rookie Shamarko Thomas has all the makings of a great one, he provides much needed talent and depth at the position behind the two starters. Everything about the Steelers safeties hinges on Polamalu’s health. Reports indicate that he’s in the best shape of his career since he was at USC. That’s excellent news for Steelers fans. I expect Clark to continue to play at a high level. Thomas only makes the safety group better all around. Easy A here.