Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Acknowledges Need Of Hybrid Defensive Linemen

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play a lot of sub package football on defense and that figures to be the case once again in 2014 thanks to more and more teams using multiple-receiver formations on early downs in order to spread defenses out. During the Steelers Monday pre draft press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if the increase of defensive sub package usage now requires a new kind of hybrid defensive lineman that can not only play inside, but outside as well.

“It does and not only that, but it highlights some of the skills of certain men,” said Tomlin. “I think that there’s a premium on pass rushing capabilities and probably interior pass rushing capabilities. Probably a stronger case for that than it’s been in other years, simply because the number of snaps we’re playing in sub package football. And by sub package football, I mean that the offense has three or more receivers on the field – we have three or more corner-like bodies on the field.”

By the sound of things, the Steelers plan on using nose tackle Steve McLendon more this season as part of their sub packages. So that means we’re likely to see him and defensive end Cameron Heyward on the field together more in sub packages. In addition, the Steelers also signed Cam Thomas during the offseason and he can play both over the nose and on the end as well.

“He’s nose capable, he’s end capable,” said Tomlin of Thomas. “It’s about not only playing to his talents, but also the talents of the other men that we have to find the strongest combination that will give us an opportunity to play great defense. And it may change from situation to situation. I think his position flexibility will aid in that along with the flexibility of Steve and others.”

While the nose tackle position is still a very important position in the Steelers base 3-4 defense, moving forward, a player that can play the zero and one technique also needs to be versatile enough to play the two, three, four and five technique as well in order to maximize their value.

In case you’re curious, the Steelers only used their 3-4 base defense on 416 (40.2%) of the plays last season. In addition, they had six defensive backs on the field for 512 (49.5%) of the plays.

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • blackandgoldBullion

    And there you go: Even more evidence that they will probably not go DE or NT in any round before 4 or later. Start thinking about what positions they will certainly draft high– let’s see. We’re left with CB, WR, OLB, TE. It is very likely that they take a second CB before they even address the O line or maybe even D line.

    Interesting.

  • dkoy85

    I really like the idea of McClendon being on the other side of Heyward when they’re in sub-packages. I think he can be a beast. Another thing I am excited to see throughout the season.

  • Addison

    Tomlin seemed very interested in Louis Nix. He’s not your typical nose tackle. Not at 15, but maybe a trade down or if he free falls. Either way didn’t teams run all over us in those sub packages? Tomlin secretly wants a 4/3 haha

  • taztroy43

    DT Aaron Donald if hes there at 1.15. Donald reminds me of John Randal HOF from the Vikings…I don’t care if hes not the prototypical DE, NT for us….if you can play you can play…after all the NFL is not what it used to be 10 yrs ago…teams pass a whole lot more unless your the Vikings….

  • Iron Cadet

    What makes you think that they won’t go de before 4? Because McClendon will play more? He doesn’t play defensive end and we have a blank spot at end.

  • 20Stoney

    I’d ruled Donald out as not fitting what the Steelers do, but that who I kept thinking about while reading this article.

  • Jason Vancil

    All that is great, but this team better figure out how to stop the run without a classic fireplug nose tackle. Because the first year without Casey Hampton was an abomination. I realize there were other factors, however I think people are going overboard with this “its a passing league” idea.

  • PA2AK

    I think people are going overboard with your very point. Look at stats against the run when Mac was in there. Gains were mainly outside of his responsibilities. Young ILB, young OLB, piss poor tackling by the safeties. I’d like to see them sure up the run a bit. What I’d really like to see is the entire unit tackle better and eliminate the big plays again.

  • PA2AK

    Most say Mac plays end better, and I believe that is where he had his start.

  • Iron Cadet

    ive never heard anyone in the steelers organization say that mac plays better at end. he played limited snaps at end but is our nose tackle. and if mac somehow is our other end then you wouldnt want to get a NT before 5?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Here’s a question.

    How would Donald look in a 2 man front?

    His name sure pops with “inside pass rush”

  • Eric MacLaurin

    If nothing else the offenses are changing a lot and defenses are figuring out how to adjust. You can’t dismiss him because of how we used to win.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I have to wonder how they will flip some of these guys around. Having the ability to pop Thomas in to nose tackle and McLendon out to end, or flop sides with Heyward and Thomas is very appealing to me. If you game plan to stop Heyward but he is moving around, it makes it more difficult. In addition, I think sometimes an olineman can figure out how to stop player A, so maybe you give him a different look by throwing a different style at him. Imagine for a minute you are blocking Hampton, and suddenly a speed rusher is thrown at you. It may make only one small mistake happen, but that may be enough.

  • srdan

    I agree with you. It is a passing league. If you get a chance on yesterdays podcast they are predicting 19 receivers go in the first two rounds. How many running backs? So…. it is a passing league.

    Casey was great, but lets not forget that he played next to the best 3/4 end of all time. Yes I said it! Mac is good but he is no big snack. But Cam’s ceiling is higher than Aarons IMO. Lets hope he fulfills it.

    Last years abomination was more to do with terrible tackling and young players being out of place, than it was Mac being so inferior to casey that opponents were distroying us up the middle. I agree with the OP, we need ot fix our run D, but NT is not where the major issue is.

  • Big White

    That last sentence was a jolt.

  • Big White

    Monday morning qb here who wishes they had kept Al Woods on the cheap.

  • 20Stoney

    I think Woods departure was a bigger deal than a lot of people. He allowed them to dress one guy that could play multiple positions and he appeared to be on the upswing.

  • PA2AK

    that’s not the point. The point is that roughly 50% of the time, we have 2 DL on the field. When in base defense (40%) Mac is fairly solid at NT. He’s not Hampton, but it was his first year starting, brings many other things to the position, and should certainly improve (not to mention the big gains due to major inexperience at LB positions and huge missed tackles by DBs). I’d like to see a legit DE brought in prior to a NT, but the idea is with the other needs at DB positions, WR, et. al….is the DL going to be a very high pick when we play with >2 DL only 40% of the time? Unless a marquee player is there, I don’t see B&GB’s thought too far off base. I’m not sure if I’ve heard anyone within the Steelers say that about Mac either…but we don’t hear much from them about anything. Plenty of other analysts have said Mac is a natural 3-4 DE.

  • PA2AK

    Yes and Mac brings something else in passing situations that Hampton never did. Just think about (3-4) players in missed tackles and blown assignments from early in the year…JJ, Kion Wilson, Clark, V. WIlliams. JJ and Williams got much better as the season progressed (especially williams, imo), but there were a ton of no to short gain runs that ended up 20+ down the field. Teams were hitting big plays on the ground…not running up the middle.

  • PA2AK

    good point. would be nice to see some position flexibility actually utilized as a tactic with the starters instead of a CYA when injuries start.

  • Iron Cadet

    So you are ok with arnfelt or Thomas being on the field 40% of the time? And when they are, risking the other team going no huddle and keeping them on the field. We have starters at wr and cb but not at end. And if we do go cb and wr in 1 and 2 then what other need is greater? Defensive end is one of our top needs and to not take one because we only need them on the field about half the time would result in an awful defensive front

  • Jason Vancil

    You have more confidence than I do that McClendon will provide anything in PR situations.

  • srdan

    interesting point of view.

  • PA2AK

    I’m not debating that DE is a need, just that regardless of when we pick, that guy won’t be starting this season. I imagine Keisel will be back as a rotational starter. Arnfelt may surprise us a bit, but Thomas is serviceable in a rotation. We have (1) proven starter at WR, (1) semi-reliable starter at CB…and the same for DE. So there is still a need their. With the available talent in this draft…it might not be far fetched to see them go with (2) CB’s, a WR, OLB/TE/OT in the first 4 rounds. I’m not saying I 100% agree with that, but it isn’t really that wild of an idea, imo…especially given the draft stock/value and predicted usage of our sub packages.

  • AndyR34

    Most fans are wrong!

  • AndyR34

    Please name an analyst that has said this.

  • AndyR34

    I don’t think that you’re going to see Mac in on many punt returns! LOL

  • srdan

    Maybe cam? lol

  • AndyR34

    There is a school of thought…not that I necessarily subscribe to it…that C. Thomas may actually be better than Woods. I have not watched enough film to say that I know, but Thomas was a starter at one point and I believe part of the reason he lost his starting spot was that he no longer fit their defensive scheme. We are not going to know for quite some time.

  • AndyR34

    They tried to keep him on the cheap…he wanted more money and signed for more.

  • PA2AK

    Ha, well maybe I’ve been confused. Mac being a better fit as a DE has been discussed at great length on this site and I have yet to hear someone say otherwise until now. Personally, I’d prefer he stays at NT…but much like the OP and Tomlin…the topic is about position flexibility of Mac, Thomas, and future players with regard to the limited usage of the base 3-4.

  • PA2AK

    I’m sure he meant pass rush…or I hope he did.

  • PA2AK

    I can attest to this…as i’m often one of them.

  • Weiss Chad

    I don’t think they take tight end whole draft.just my oppinion

  • Kyle Owens

    Sooooo Aaron Donald?

  • Steelers@2010

    I have no faith in Mike Tomlin when it comes to evaluating talent. That hasn’t been one of his strong areas since his arrival. Ed Bouchette wrote an article late last year that Mike Tomlin wouldn’t have as much pull in the War Room this year than in previous drafts. Sounds like the Chief has placed his stamp on the decision as well.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I’m saying they play 2 linemen in sub packages, so they may not view any D-linemen as being as necessary as CB’s or WR’s. Plus they often have 4 LB’s out there and only 2 D linemen. Also the strength of the Steelers has always been the amazing LB’s. So I would love it if they go with OLB ahead of DE, and it also fits the Steelers M.O.

  • Addison

    Really wow. I missed that article.

  • joed32

    You’re right, they are the same age and have been in the league the same number of years. Thomas has been a starter and Woods has not. Thomas has started 15 games (10 last year) and Woods has started 2 (both last year). Not saying that Thomas is better but he is more experienced and has had more success.

  • PA2AK

    Seems to hold water. Could very well be their tactic this year. Also doesn’t seem to be very much high round (1-4) value at our pick for DL…unless someone slides.