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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Looking at free agent linebackers, defensive linemen

As I do every offseason, I’ll take a look over the next few weeks at the Steelers’ potential free agents and possible veteran replacements or upgrades.

Keep in mind that the Steelers have never been major players on the free agent market. So no matter how much you want them to go out and sign say, Terrell Owens, it’s not going to happen.

This week, we’ll take a look at the defensive linemen and linebackers.

Steelers potential losses
Casey Hampton, NT
Travis Kirschke, DE
Rocky Boiman, LB

The Steelers are going to place the franchise tag on Hampton to keep the 33-year-old nose tackle around for at least one more year while they work a new guy - likely a draft pick - into the rotation.

They’ve also got steady backup Chris Hoke to hold down the fort at that position.

But if Kirschke decides to hang up his pads - which is likely at this point - it leaves a bit of a hole in on the roster.

Sure, the Steelers would like to get younger on the defensive line and Ziggy Hood will probably be the top backup in 2010, but as they found out in 2009 when Aaron Smith was lost for the season, depth on the defensive line is critical.

Promising youngster Sonny Harris is also waiting in the wings, as is Nick Eason, but the team may want to hedge its bets against Harris continuing to improve and/or bringing in a veteran to challenge Eason.

At linebacker, it’s no secret that James Farrior has lost a step and the Steelers could be looking for a possible replacement in the draft or through free agency.

Boiman was signed to help improve the special teams play and could return for the veteran minimum.

So who might the Steelers look at on the free agent market?

On the defensive line, I like New England’s Jarvis Green and Buffalo’s Ryan Denney.

The 31-year-old Green has plenty of experience playing in a 3-4 defense and at 6-3, 285 pounds, would be a nice addition to the rotation the team likes to use with its defensive line.

Denney is a player the Steelers liked coming out of BYU in 2002. In fact, the BYU connection could come into play. Both Hoke and Brett Keisel played with Denney at BYU and could possibly help talk the veteran into coming to Pittsburgh as a backup with the hopes of joining a winner.

At 6-7, 265 pounds, the 32-year-old Denney is a little light to play in the 3-4, but with his frame, adding a little bulk shouldn’t be a problem.

At linebacker, Keyaron Fox will likely get a shot at spelling Farrior, while the Steelers could also look to the draft for a future replacement.

But if the Steelers are thinking about looking to the free agent market for Farrior, Chicago’s Pisa Tinoisamoa could fit the bill. Like Farrior, Tinoisamoa is an undersized outside linebacker who could transition well to the inside, where his coverage skills would serve the Steelers well.

The 6-1, 230-pound 29-year-old has seven career interceptions and 10 career sacks but is coming off an injury-shortened season.

If the Steelers are looking for more of a thumper in the middle to pair with Lawrence Timmons, San Francisco’s Matt Wilhelm, 29, could fit the bill. Though he played mainly on special teams for the 49ers in 2009, making 18 tackles, Wilhelm had 97 tackles with three interceptions and a sack in 2007 as a starter for San Diego.

There could also be the possibility of a blast from the past rejoining the team. Larry Foote asked for and received his release from the Steelers in 2009 when it became apparent he was going to be replaced by Timmons. But Foote could return and slide into his old role in a three-man rotation with Farrior and Timmons after spending a season in Detroit.


Tim said...

Sticking Jarvis Green into Kirschke's old role at DE sounds great, if they can get him for little money. Although of course I want as many reps as possible to go to Ziggy.

Just to be clear, Foote would be coming on occasionally to spell Farrior, not playing for Timmons on running downs like before, right? I like Larry Foote enough. I think he was serviceable. But at this point, I don't see him as an upgrade over Fox at all. I think Fox can fill in fine for now, and maybe even take the job for the future. But if they want competition, they should get some young blood through the draft.

I also hope Boiman stays. I thought he was an upgrade over Frazier/A. Harrison on special teams.

joseph said...

Tim, agree with you on Foote. Fox is better at this point. Definitely need depth on all 3 levels of defense though.

other_patrick said...

Dale I've heard that Sunny Harris might be a consideration at Nose. any word on that?

Does it explain why he was never gameday active?

Dale Lolley said...

He was never a game day active because he wasn't one of their best five - or six - linemen. And he really didn't play special teams. I didn't really see him play nose at all last season, but I really didn't watch him closely after the season started.

As for Foote, yes, he would be put in a rotation with Farrior, but would more likely be brought back for depth if that happened because he knows the system and can play both spots.
I agree, however, that Fox has more potential.

marc said...

rounds 1 and 2 should be DL and OL then best player available after that. i understand they don't draft for "need", but sometimes you "need" to replenish your stable with young talent.

theoretically, those taken in the 1st or 2nd round should be more talented than those taken in the 4th or 5th round. right?

Patrick said...

told you guys Hampton would get a 3 year deal.

No NT until later rounds

marc said...

i would be surprised if big snack plays out the whole deal. 2 years at the most with his replacement rotating in the second year.

i still think they should go with DL in one of the first 2 rounds.

Patrick said...

you never would have guessed, but i disagree marc - other pressing positions that need depth considering we have 2 NT's and 2 young DE's in Hood and Harris.

all good though, if they went DL I wouldn't be so shocked, just not my favorite plan.

marc said...

who is their replacement for big snack? draft him now and he should be ready in 2-3 years.

Anonymous said...

Even with Big Snack I would go looking for a DL, probably during the first round. Aaron Smith is quite old and injury prone, who knows how Hampton will show up for camp. Smith has missed two of the last three season finales leaving the defense, specially run defense quite vulnerable. I would go for a DL, OL ILB in that precise order, try to sign Clark and push Wallace and Burnett to step up. I still believe Earl Thomas would be a reach at 18.

Anonymous said...

LeBeau doesn't think Farrior has lost a step. What makes you think Farrior will be spelled by anyone this year? He played every snap last year and wears the radio helmet.

Dale Lolley said...

Because James said he had lost a step. Of course LeBeau didn't say that. Why would he admit Farrior had lost a step. When has Dick ever said anything bad about any of his players? Hasn't happened. He's not that kind of guy, even off the record.
And just because Farrior made the calls in 2009 doesn't mean he will in 2010.
It's nothing against James. I like him. He's one of the more stand-up guys they have. But age catches up to you.
He has continued dropping weight to try to keep his speed. He played at under 220 at times last year. But the speed isn't coming back.

Patrick said...

I still don't think you can have 3 NT's on your roster when they only play 2 downs as it is.

Maybe they'll draft a late project but I highly doubt they draft a NT high unless it is just such a good value they can't pass it up.

marc said...

dale, if farrior is one of the more stand up guys are you implying there are others that are not so?

also, why can't you have 3 NT?

Patrick said...

Just think its a waste of a roster spot unless the draft pick can make some noise on 3rd down.

Otherwise you're going to have a guy who guy barely sees the field, or has no reason to, sacrificing depth at another spot.

Dale Lolley said...

You can have three Nts. They carried Scott Paxson on the active roster at times in the past. He was pretty much strictly a NT. Hokie can play outside as well.

Patrick said...

didn't they carry Paxson only due to injuries though?

We'll see come draft time, but I just don't see them investing in any more than later round project. Round 3 would be reasonable but not 1 or 2.

Dale Lolley said...

Depends on where the value is at. They always like to cover themselves so that they don't HAVE to take a player at a certain position because of need.