Steelers Pre-Camp Depth Chart Update – Defensive End

With minicamp in the rearview mirror and training camp on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Steelers should already have all of the main components of their offseason roster in place, with all draft picks signed and no more free agents projected to be added until further evaluation.

It’s possible that a need should arise for further additions, either due to poor performance or injuries, once we reach training camp.

But for the time being, we should take a look at the depth chart that the front office has put together since the end of the 2013 season and see how well it stacks up in terms of quality and depth.

Due to the cumbersome lengths that offseason rosters can reach, we will be projecting a number or range of roster spots per position and focusing on that number of players per position, with other potential notables receiving mention below.

Position: Defensive End

Projected Roster Spots: 4-5

Cameron Heyward: Heyward broke out in a big way last season, and as he enters his fourth year, he now finds himself the leader of the defensive linemen after starting just 12 games a year ago. He showed improvement throughout the year, and seems poised to take the next step in 2014. The Steelers will need him to do so.

Cam Thomas: With both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods leaving in free agency, the Steelers selected Thomas to serve basically as the interim starter at left defensive end until Stephon Tuitt is ready to take over. Thomas is a veteran, and although he’s played more at nose tackle, he has the ability to play end. Some may have judged him too harshly based on his previous team’s success. I will reserve judgment until I see him in a Steelers uniform myself.

Stephon Tuitt: The Steelers are counting on Tuitt to emerge as a starter, and preferably sooner rather than later. Dick LeBeau said that he will play a bunch as a rookie, which is rare for him to say. That could be equally about his potential, however, as it is about the team’s needs.

Brian Arnfelt: The second-year undrafted free agent had a strong preseason as a rookie, and continued to develop on the practice squad, which resulted in a late-season call-up. He stands to be an active part of the defensive line rotation this year along with Tuitt if he can pick up where he left off.

Nick Williams: Williams will figure to be Arnfelt’s main competition, however. And there’s been little competition up until now. Williams battled injuries during his rookie year and only got some playing time in one preseason game, missing the majority of the offseason. He’s continued to rehabilitate a knee injury this year, and only recently has he resumed practicing with the rest of the team again. He is a physical specimen, but whether or not he has the skills required of a 3-4 defensive end remains to be seen.

Others: The elephant in the room is Brett Keisel. Will he or won’t he be back? Would he be willing to play for veteran minimum? Do the Steelers even want him back, or has the front office already moved on?

The Steelers have many young defensive ends vying for positions following the dumping of three of their top players at the position. They brought in two more as undrafted free agents in Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer, but both must be considered longshots as of now.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Geoff Cordner

    Couldn’t McCullers be a DE if he doesn’t pan out at NT? And, I thought there was some positive hype behind Josh Mauro… could he take Nick Williams spot if he doesn’t take a step or is healthy?

  • Burgh Ball

    McCullers will be lucky to make the team.. I dont see him playing DE – He’s got sundial speed.

  • Geoff Cordner

    Ah yes, the speed thing.. Do you see Mauro making it?

  • Weiss Chad

    Lol “sundial speed” now that’s funny I don’t care who you are.ty

  • Steelers12328882

    Josh Mauro could be the best rookie free agent we signed depending on who you listen to.

  • steeltown

    Could see Mauro on the PS possibly

  • patrick Mayfield

    agreed. I saw him mocked in mid rounds frequently.

    He’s a 5th year senior so he might be ahead of some other rooks from a strength perspective.

    cbs said this about him:

    COMPARES TO: Brett Keisel, Steelers — Don’t count on Mauro for blinding speed off the edge but his size, strength and toughness could make him a dependable five-technique defensive end, like the Steelers’ Keisel. –Rob Rang (1/14/14)

  • ATL96STEELER

    Cam Thomas…after 4 seasons, I think you are what you are in this league so I’m more skeptical…hopefully the uniform and coaching change gets him going..

    Tuitt has a similar skill (size, athleticism) to Heyward…if he can develop confidence in what his job is quickly…I expect him to get a lot of snaps this season.

    We need 4 to 6 guys on the DL…with Arnfelt, N. WIlliams in the fold for depth, DE looks stronger than NT right now.

  • Matthew Marczi

    John Mitchell said that McCullers could potentially play on the outside some if he dropped a bit of weight. 350 on a 6’7″ frame is different from 350 on a 6’2″ frame. I’m not sure that we see him at DE much at all this preseason though.

    Regarding Mauro, there was some early hype, it seemed, mainly because some tried to compare him to a young Keisel, but that seems to have been talked down some by people who watch practice and talk to team scouts and the like. Of course it’s too early to write of anybody. My guess is that his ceiling for this year would be to battle Williams for a spot on the practice squad.

  • Leon Mcnair

    McCullers will be the back up NT he will beat out fangupo easily

  • joed32

    You’re right in that it’s pretty hard to judge lineman, offensive or defensive, from OTAs. They run 7 on 7s a lot and they’re not even on the field. When they put the pads on and go 11 on 11 we’ll see who steps up. I have no favorites among the contenders for the 53, I think they all have a chance. McLendon and Heyward are set.

  • Steelers12328882

    I’m just curious. Who was talking down Mauro? I haven’t heard a word about him. Not sure if that’s good or bad tho lol.

  • Louis Goetz

    The player to watch is Nick Williams, or at least the coaches seem to think so. He was drafted in the 7th round last year and the Steelers were so impressed with him that he not only got a 4 year deal, but he also got a $57.8K signing bonus. Most rookies picked up after the 4th round only get 3 year deals. And I cannot find a single 7th rounder who’s ever gotten a signing bonus from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They obviously saw something more than a typical 7th rounder when they signed him last June. Then he got hurt in August and instead of being waived injured and given an injury settlement, they put him on IR and paid him the whole season, which is another indication that they see something in him. Given how wide open the right DE and both back-up positions are, it’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out. And Nick Williams is going to be someone to start watching.

  • Riverstko

    I know. I dont know why everyone hating on McCullers. He can take up alot of space on the line. Plus sec experience. Hes good enough to be a backup NT
    .