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Friday, April 03, 2015

A look at the Steelers by position, Part II

We'll continue our look at the Steelers by position as they come out of free agency today by taking a gander at the defensive line.

Cam Heyward built on his strong 2013 season by putting together and even better 2014 campaign. I was skewered on this blog last summer by saying he had a chance to become the league's best 3-4 defensive end.

He's on his way to doing that. I know, J.J. Watt is technically a 3-4 defensive end, but he could be a star at any position, regardless of scheme.

Heyward might be an effective defensive tackle in the NFL, but he's a damn good 3-4 defensive end.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon gets very little love from Steelers fans. But the veteran is better than he gets credit for and the Steelers can and do win with him in there. Is he a star? No. But the team has bigger problems than their nose tackle.

He played through a shoulder injury suffered early on, missing some games because of it, but returning down the stretch.

At the other end position, rookie Stephon Tuitt started the final month or so of the season and got better as he got his feet under him. In fact, Tuitt showed the team enough that it was comfortable releasing veteran defensive end Brett Keisel.

Tuitt should only continue to get better and the team's defensive line could wind up being a strength in 2015 - if it can find some depth.

Rookie Daniel McCullers is massive at nose tackle and showed promise when pushed into action when McLendon was sidelined with the shoulder injury.

McCullers needs to work on his conditioning and initial get-off at the snap, but he's nearly impossible to stop once he gets rolling.

Cam Thomas was a disappointment in his first season after coming over from San Diego as a free agent. Then again, it's hard to understand why he was being counted on to start in the first place.

The Steelers hope a second season in their system will make Thomas better, but the jury is certainly out.

At this point, guys such as Joe Kruger, Clifton Geathers, Ethan Hemer and Matt Conrath are nothing more than depth guys.

The Steelers could certainly use a draft pick to upgrade the depth at the position, with defensive end being a target.


Anonymous said...

Dale, what is your opinion on McCullers' being the #4 guy as the backup at all DL positions? I seem to recall Mitchell saying he could certainly play DE too. Probably practiced some there at training camp but who knows. Would be nice, as it essentially renders Cam thomas the #5 guy, though at his salary that may not happen!

Dale Lolley said...

I don't think McCullers is quick enough to do that. But they could rotate McLendon outside. He's got a good first step.

Tim said...

Cam Thomas is an easy cut financially-speaking, isn't he?

I can understand keeping him around as a camp body, someone to build the confidence of our offensive linemen and other defensive linemen, and I understand having high hopes - who knows, maybe a miracle will happen, right? But do you suppose they are actually EXPECTING him to be on the field once the regular season starts? That seems extremely stupid, based on his play last year.

Dale Lolley said...

If he proves to be better than the other backups, yes.

Tim said...

But for $2 million? That performance is not worth that money. They could find a scrub FA to play as "well"' for the league minimum.

Remembering back to his signing, I think he's a pretty clean cut, financially. Little to no dead money. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

marc said...

unless cam Thomas possesses some type of incredible locker room presence that is good for the younger guys, he should be cut. would much rather go with a younger, higher potential type player in that spot. not to mention just about any FA pickup would be as good if not better than Thomas.