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Key Storylines to Watch for Steelers Defense

Steelers defense Sam Greene via flickr


Steelers Defense Looks to Keep Improving in 2017

In the 2016 season, we saw an improving young Steelers defense. This included key contributions from some young rising stars, which included Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, and Sean Davis, along with a few others. While this Steelers defense is very young and inexperienced, they have very promising potential for many years to come.  Here are some key storylines to watch for with the Steelers defense during OTA’s.

How Will the Rookies be Used in 2017?

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Steelers made some key selections to help improve their defense. The top selections for the Steelers defense included linebacker TJ Watt and cornerback Cameron Sutton. Both of these players could see some huge playing time in their rookie season.

The Steelers took Watt with their first round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft (3oth overall). Playing at the outside linebacker position, Watt had an outstanding college career at Wisconsin. In his final season for the Badgers, Watt finished with 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. As a result, those numbers earned him second-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors. For the 2017 season, the Steelers will most likely start Bud Dupree and James Harrison at the outside linebacker spots. However, with Harrison getting older, Watt should definitely see a large amount of playing time and possibly slip into a starting role at some point.

Pittsburgh selected Sutton in the third round of the draft  (94th overall). Sutton started in every single game while at Tennessee. Unfortunately, he was sidelined for half of his final season due to an injury. Sutton finished with 23 tackles, one interception, and four pass breakups in his final season with the Vols. However, he still had a very impressive college career. In the Steelers secondary, the starters at corner are expected to be Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell. I expect Sutton to get a lot of playing time in the nickel and eventually challenge Cockrell for the starting job.

Will Vince Williams be Able to Replace Timmons?

For the past several years, the Steelers defense has been led by inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Timmons had an outstanding career in Pittsburgh, accumulating 981 tackles and 12 interceptions in ten seasons. Ultimately, Timmons decided to leave the Steelers and sign with the Miami Dolphins this offseason. There wasn’t  much experience left behind him. The Steelers defense will now be led by Ryan Shazier but he will need a partner at inside linebacker.

The next man in line looks to be Vince Williams. Williams is entering his fifth season with the Steelers after being drafted out of Florida State. In the 2016 season, Williams played in a rotational role on defense and played special teams. He finished the 2016 seasons with 47 tackles and two sacks. Hopefully, Williams will continue to improve as a player and will help the Steelers defense keep rising.

Defensive Line Depth

Another question with the Steelers defense is how their defensive line rotation is going to look. The Steelers have a solid starting defensive line group with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt at the defensive ends, along with Javon Hargrave at nose tackle. However, there is very little experience behind them.

The two players to watch to be rotational players at the defensive end spots are Tyson Alualu and LT Walton. Alualu signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent this offseason. He has been in the NFL for seven seasons, playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his seven seasons, Alualu has accounted for 258 tackles and 17.5 sacks. Drafted out of Central Michigan, Walton has been with the Steelers for two seasons. However, he has seen very limited playing time. In the 2016 season, Walton finished with just six tackles.

The only player with NFL experience that will be in rotation at nose tackle with Hargrave is Daniel McCullers. McCullers, drafted out of Tennessee, has been with the Steelers for three seasons. He has served as a rotational player in all three seasons. During the 2016 season, McCullers accounted for 10 tackles and one sack. Walton is also thought of as a player who could slide inside if needed. Unless there is a player that comes out and surprises the Steelers’ staff this season, Hargrave and McCullers will likely carry the entire workload at nose tackle.

Hopefully, with all of these key storylines and players to watch, the Steelers defense will continue to improve in 2017.  Ultimately, the goal is to have this defense ready to help lead the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl title.

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