By Jeremy Hritz
Only 20 some days away from the 2013 NFL Draft, and still the biggest question facing the Steelers defense is who will line up alongside Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker. Based on the current roster and due to the injury of Sean Spence, it would appear that Larry Foote will start inside for a second year. Foote was serviceable but not spectacular in 2012, and it would seem logical that the Steelers would want to upgrade at the position in 2013.
Elsewhere on the Steelers defense, things seem to be figured out.
Starting on the defensive line, Ziggy Hood will return at the left defensive end position, opposite of the bearded one, Brett Keisel. Assuming that Steve McLendon signs his tender, he will get his first opportunity as the starting nose tackle, a move that has been greatly anticipated by Steelers fans. McLendon at nose tackle hopefully provides an upgrade to a defensive line that was porous at times last season against the run.
On the backend, the safety positions will continue to be manned by Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, both who are nearing the end of their careers. They still have one to two productive years left, so the Steelers have some time to cultivate starters for when Clark and Polamalu depart. At the cornerback position, Ike Taylor will return to provide veteran leadership and to help new starter on the left side, Cortez Allen, get acclimated with his new role. The Steelers are counting on Polamalu staying healthy and Allen building on the turnovers he was responsible for at the end of last season.
And then we have the linebacking corps. Where it currently stands without a clear cut long-term starter at the BUCK spot inside, the team is relatively young at the position. LaMarr Woodley is 28, Timmons is 26, and newly anointed right outside starter Jason Worilds is 25. If Woodley can rebound, Timmons can continue his solid play, and Worilds can prove he is starter material, the linebacker position will be improved. Still, the uncertainty surrounds the left side. Dave Bryan wrote back on March 21st that the Steelers may have a plan for Marshall McFadden at inside linebacker, but only to provide for depth and to address special teams. They also still have Foote on the roster who was resigned this offseason; however, it would be foolish to believe that the defense would improve if the position remained status quo.
It seems logical that the Steelers would take an inside linebacker with the 17th pick in the first round, yet there are simply too many questions surrounding Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, and Manti Te’o. Oh yeah, there is also this thing about rookies not starting on the Steelers defense.
While there is an outside chance that one of the aforementioned players could be drafted and start by the end of the season, the probability is small, and it is more realistic to believe that 2013 finds Foote back inside next to Timmons for not only all of 2013, but quite possibly the start of 2014 as well.