The 2012 NFL draft is now complete and the Pittsburgh Steelers added one defensive lineman in the form of Washington nose tackle Alameda Ta\’amu as part of their nine selections. With the draft and free agency now behind us, it is time to take the yearly look at the state of the Steelers defensive line and depth chart moving forward into the offseason workouts. If you missed our look at the Steelers offensive line following the draft, you can read that by following the link.
Casey Hampton – Hampton tore the ACL in his left knee in the AFC Wild Card game loss to the Denver Broncos and has since had surgery following the injury. Hampton agreed to have his salary reduced in 2012 and will have a tough battle to be healthy by the time the start of the season rolls around. If available for week 1, Hampton figures to be the starter at nose tackle in base defense situations. It would not be surprising to see his snaps limited in the early part of the season if he does not start the year off on the PUP list instead.
Steve McLendon – McLendon reportedly weighs over 300 pounds despite being listed on the teams\’ official website at 280 pounds. He saw just under 150 snaps on defense last season and totaled 13 tackles to go along with 1 quarterback sack. He could be relied on heavily early in the season at nose tackle depending on the overall health of Hampton. McLendon has shown he has the ability to play the 3, 4 and 5 technique at defensive end in rotation packages, so his versatility will help in 2012. Defensive line coach John Mitchell warned not to discount the former undrafted free agent in 2012 just because the team drafted Alameda Ta\’amu in the 4th round. Look for McLendon to assume the role of the now retired Chris Hoke in 2012 once Hampton is ready for heavy action.
Alameda Ta\’amu – The rookie will likely spend a good portion of the 2012 season getting an earful from Mitchell as he learns the nuances of the Dick LeBeau defense. The fourth round pick out of Washington is a huge man that will have to show his ability to take on the double teams and free up the linebackers to make plays prior to getting playing time. Rookies on defense hardly get any playing time early on for Pittsburgh and that figures to be the same for Ta\’amu. Hampton did start as a rookie in the second part of his rookie year, so it is not out of the question that Ta\’amu could be groomed in that same time frame. It all depends on him.
Kade Weston – Weston was originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft after playing his college football at Georgia. He was waived injured by the Patriots prior to the start of the 2010 season, and after clearing waivers, he reverted back to the Patriots injured reserve list. After another try in 2011 with the Patriots at training camp, Weston was released prior to the start of the season and he ultimately landed on the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts in October. Weston was signed by the Steelers this past offseason as a nose tackle and he has no realistic shot at making the Steelers 53 man roster or practice squad.
Mike Blanc – Blanc is an undersized defensive tackle out of Auburn that has no shot at making the Steelers practice squad. He is merely a camp body.
Brett Keisel – Keisel suffered a groin injury in the AFC Wild Card game, but by all reports he will be ready by the start of training camp. The veteran is coming off of a great season that saw him record 48 tackles in 14 games to go along with 3 sacks and 6 passes defensed. Keisel will be the starting right defensive end once again, but could see his playing time eaten into by Cameron Heyward in an effort to keep him fresh late in the season. Keisel understands the defense as good as anyone wearing the black and gold and will be looked upon to take an even larger role as a team leader now that James Farrior has been jettisoned. Keisel remains one of the top 3-4 defense ends in the league, but he must be healthy come playoff time.
Ziggy Hood – 2012 needs to be a jump year for the Steelers 2009 first round draft pick. While Hood did show some flashes in 2011, he needs to get better against the run first and foremost. He struggles the most when he is given two-gap responsibilities and he does not push the pocket consistent enough on the left side on passing downs. Hood recorded just 19 solo tackles in 2011 to go along with only 10 pressures of the quarterback. A slow start in 2012 could see him lose playing time at left defensive to Heyward if he is not careful. Hood figures to be one of the biggest challenges Mitchell has heading into this season and he has to start playing like a first round draft pick if he is going to be considered a long term player on the defensive line.
Cameron Heyward – The Steelers 2011 first round draft pick played nearly 200 snaps last year in a reserve role. Heyward did not get the benefit of a rookie mini-camp or OTA sessions last year thanks to the lockout, but he held his own just the same in limited action. He figures to be hot on the heels of Hood heading into training camp this year and he will likely see considerable more playing time in rotation at both right and left defensive end if he is not the starting left defensive end out of training camp. Heyward recorded 7 pressures of the quarterback and one sack during his rookie season and his second season looks very promising.
Corbin Bryant – Many thought that Bryant had a legitimate shot to make the 53 man roster last year out of training camp based on his play, but that would not be the case. He was promoted to the 53 man roster from the practice squad for the week 7 game against the Arizona Cardinals, but only saw 5 snaps on defense. Bryant seems best suited on the left side, and with another strong offseason and training camp, the undrafted defensive end out of Northwestern might have a shot at a roster spot. Bryant will have a great deal of competition to fight off in the form of a few more undrafted free agents that the Steelers signed this offseason, and at worse, Bryant should have a great shot to make the practice squad out of training camp. He will be a player to watch for sure during the preseason.
Al Woods – Woods was originally drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but they gave up on him quickly. The Steelers signed him to their practice squad in 2010, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snatched him off there almost immediately. Following his release by the Buccaneers, Woods latched on with Seattle Seahawks as a defensive tackle for several weeks. When Woods was waived by the Seahawks the Steelers claimed him off of waivers and he stayed on their 53 man roster the remainder of the season, although he never played a down on defense. The Steelers seem poised to turn him into a 3-4 defensive end ,and depending on how that conversion goes, Woods might battle Bryant for a spot on the 53 man roster should the Steelers choose to keep seven defensive linemen.
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun – Igbinosun was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent following the draft. 6-foot-5, 285-pounder out of Southern Connecticut State was one of the top defensive players in the Northeast-10 Conference last season where he earned all-conference, all-region and all-ECAC honors in 2011. He led SCSU linemen both with 58 tackles and seven sacks last season. Igbinosun will convert to a 3-4 defensive end with the Steelers and could be a player to compete possibly for a practice squad spot.
Jake Stoller – Stoller played defense tackle at Yale and he will convert to 3-4, 5-technuique defensive end with the Steelers. The 6-foot-3, 284-pound undrafted free agent had 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles in 10 games last season for the Bulldogs and he has his work cut out for him just to make the practice squad at this point.
Post Draft Prediction 53 Man Roster Defensive Linemen
NT Casey Hampton
NT Steve McLendon
NT Alameda Ta\’amu
DE Brett Keisel
DE Ziggy Hood
DE Cameron Heyward
DE Corbin Bryant