Expect A Five Man Jam On The Dline With Keisel Down
During his press conference today, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin let us know real quick that right defensive end Brett Keisel would miss the Miami Dolphins game on Sunday with a hamstring injury. He then went on to say that both Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood would see more time in his absence, but did not indicate which of the two would start. My early guess is that it will be Eason as he has logged the most snaps thus far on the right side in relief of Keisel during the D-line rotations through 5 games thus far. Hood on the other hand has mostly spelled Aaron Smith at the left end spot and has yet to really splash yet in his second season. Eason has logged 3 tackles and 1.5 sacks thus far while Hood has only registered 2 tackles.
Lost in all of the talk of who will fill the role at right end is the fact that the Steelers are once again down to just 5 healthy linemen. Earlier this year when both nose tackle Casey Hampton and his back-up Chris Hoke were sidelined with injuries, Tomlin brought up Steve McLendon from the practice squad. McLendon played some snaps against the Titans, but was not used on defense against the Ravens. He only played on special teams in that game. Based on that fact I could indeed see the Steelers going with only 5 defensive linemen on Sunday down in Miami.
Another option of course on the practice squad is Al Woods, who was signed after the Saints made their final cut-downs to start the season. Woods however is really considered a project at this point and it is hard to imagine he would be ready to contribute in the Dick LeBeau defense. A more realistic approach would be to let Hoke rotate in at one of the end spots. He has already done that this season in several nickel package situations when the Steelers played in Tampa. Hampton seems fully recovered from his early hamstring injury and would have to log more snaps at nose tackle. Hood could rotate in at both end spots behind Smith and Eason and Hoke can spell Hampton inside and Smith on the left side when needed.
Another drawback of just bringing up McLendon again is the fact that you have to release someone to make room for him. If it is a rookie like Jonathan Dwyer or Crezdon Butler, you run the risk of them not clearing waivers and getting signed elsewhere. The same goes with either Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch. The Steelers did it once already with Leftwich, but he was still recovering from his knee injury. Now that he is healthy, he could draw more interest from a team like the Lions, Browns or Bills who are short at the quarterback position.
In the end I think the Steelers try to stand pat with their roster and hope that Keisel can return in week 8 against the Saints. If he is not ready, at least the game will be played inside the Superdome and not outside in the Louisiana heat and humidity. If all 5 can stay productive and healthy through the next two games, Keisel ought to be back for the Monday night week 9 game against the Bengals in Cincinnati at the latest. Until then it may be a Five Man Jam on the D-Line for a few weeks.