State of the Steelers: Defensive Line

20131229mfsteelerssports04-2With the offense completely finished, we now turn our attention to the defense.

They say games are won in the trenches, so might as well start there.

The Steelers finished the season with the 21st ranked defense against the run. While that was an improvement over the 2012 ranking, it’s clear that the Steelers defense just doesn’t scare running backs like it used to.

I will say that the run defense did seem to improve as the season went on. A big reason for the improvement was the breakout season for defensive end Cam Heyward.

Heyward has superstar potential, and will be a building block of the Steelers defense going forward.

The Steelers got a little bit of a scare last year when then restricted free agent, Steve McLendon got some interest from the Green Bay Packers.

The Steelers quickly locked up McLendon with a contract extension. For that reason, Steve isn’t going anywhere either. Where he plays could be up in the air though.

Steve isn’t your prototypical nose tackle. He’s tall, with long arms, and does most of his damage with a good motor and pursuit game rather than being an immovable object like Casey Hampton once was.

It’s for that reason that many fans, including myself, have speculated that if the Steelers were to draft a pure nose tackle like Louis Nix, that McLendon could move over to DE.

I also think that Al Woods is a good enough player to start somewhere, and fits the middle more than McLendon does.

The only reason this is being discussed however, is because of the uncertainty at the DE position opposite Heyward. Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are both free agents.

With the Steelers recent history of letting veterans walk, I think that we’ve seen the last of the beard in a Steelers uniform.

Ziggy Hood, although a disappointment for a first round pick, is not a bad player. Ziggy works hard and knows the scheme, and with the Steelers lack of depth at DE would be a very helpful addition to he roster.

In the end it will come down to how much money is Ziggy seeking.

Projecting what the Steelers will do here is hard at this point. Once we get through free agency we’ll have a better idea of what might happen in the draft.

At this point I’d expect a mid-round pick to spent on a DE. I’m a big fan of Stanford defensive lineman, Ben Gardner.

Gardner reminds me a lot of Brett Keisel. He’s not huge for a 3-4 end, but he has long arms, and is an extremely intelligent player. He moved all over the Stanford defensive line, and excelled at getting into the backfield to create problems for offenses.

Gardner likely would’ve gone as high as round 2, but tore a pectoral muscle in his senior season, and will probably fall to round 3 or 4.

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