This offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have done well in recouping their free agent losses pretty much across the board, for which the front office deserves a tremendous amount of credit. It could be quite difficult playing the reactionary role in free agency by trying to plug a hole you didn’t intend to have.
When Jonathan Dwyer chose to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers aimed their sights higher, and after losing out on a few other names, eventually landed on LeGarrette Blount, who certainly figures to be an upgrade.
While taking hits at wide receiver, losing both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, the Steelers were able to find a new slot receiver and Lance Moore and are taking a flier on Darrius Heyward-Bey. Anything he offers is a bonus.
Perhaps the one area remaining that seems under-addressed as we slowly head into draft season would be defensive end.
The Steelers lost both Al Woods and Ziggy Hood, and it’s no sure thing that they will re-sign Brett Keisel in June for one last rodeo. Most figured it would be a given to retain Cotchery. Not much is a given.
But a rookie defensive end not starting under defensive line coach John Mitchell may be as close as there is to a given, and Brian Arnfelt played two snaps last season while Nick Williams spent the year on injured reserve.
The Steelers did sign Cam Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract. General manager Kevin Colbert spoke of him as being a defensive end in this defense. Perhaps we’re all underestimating this signing—at least relative to how the Steelers view it.
More to the point, it’s not out of the question that Thomas ends up being one of the starting defensive ends in the season opener. More likely than not, he’ll be lining up with the starters once OTAs begin, and he may never relinquish his spot.
We all know by now the general story behind his benching as the starting nose tackle for the San Diego Chargers last season, and of the poor yards per carry against figure with the nose tackle on the field. But one can’t simply make the assumption that that automatically makes Thomas incapable of starting, let alone at a different position.
After all, Hood was benched as well. Who’s to say that Thomas can’t play defensive end in the Steelers’ system at a competent level? The team wouldn’t have signed him if they didn’t believe that to be the case.
Perhaps putting him in the starting lineup wouldn’t necessarily be coined ‘Plan A’, but it may be next in the alphabet, barring a more palatable solution. But contingencies must be in place for when things inevitably don’t go your way.