Film Room: Why A Hybrid Safety Could Transform The Steelers Defense

Who knows what’ll happen in the draft. You don’t know, I don’t know, heck, even the team probably barely has a clue of how draft night will unfold. What is clear is the Pittsburgh Steelers have some level of interest in a safety, a position that may have surprised you and made my perk my ears up.

They’ve brought in several throughout the pre-draft process: Budda Baker, Josh Jones, and Obi Melifonwu are the non-local guys brought in. And Kevin Colbert, if you believe reports, is smitten with Jabrill Peppers. On paper, the team is set at stating safety with Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis. So why is there interest in another safety and where would that guy fit?

You could point to an eventual replacement for Mitchell and sure, maybe there’s something there. But for a first or second round pick, which is where all those players we just named will go? There has to be another plan to, at the least, get that guy on the field as soon as possible. Long gone is the Steelers’ way of sitting their draft picks for a full season. That basically ended with Stephon Tuitt, who was frustratingly plopped on the bench until the final quarter of his rookie season. Even an Artie Burns, who the team admitted was incredibly raw and would have to learn their defense, was playing Week One and didn’t take long to crack the starting lineup.

So where would a high pick safety wind up? As the hybrid player in the Steelers’ dime defense. It’s a 2-3-6 look the team has attempted to use the past two seasons; the end of 2015, the start of 2016. Neither were incredibly successful and it largely had to do with personnel. Robert Golden isn’t the ideal candidate. But the desire is there, both within the team and league-wide. And it isn’t just with guys like the Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon; he’s a linebacker who just happens to wear #20. Forget about him.

I’m talking about the Daniel Sorensen and David Bruton types. Guys who have been/can play safety but are shuttled into the box in sub-package football. Like here, Sorensen, #49.

Obviously, the Steelers have done the same with Golden.

I went back and charted the coverage the Steelers played in their dime defense in 2016 against passes. Here are the results:

Cover 2: 20
Cover 3/Rip-Liz: 12
Cover 1: 7
Unknown/Prevent Defense: 6
2 Man: 5
Fire Zone: 2
Cover 6: 1

True to their overall coverage philosophy, the Steelers played a lot of Cover 2. In general, it was zone heavy. And there’s a reason for that; they lacked some of the depth talent to play man-to-man across the board. William Gay wasn’t great in man, and it wasn’t just the Patriots game at the end of the year. And Golden, the focus here, had his issues too.

That was most evident in Week 7 against the New England Patriots. You probably remember them well. Twice, Golden got matched up on Rob Gronkowski. And twice, he was attacked, exposed, and feasted on. The first coverage was really tough for me to figure out but as far as we can tell, per Carnell Lake’s evaluation of the play, is Golden was solely responsible for Gronkowski down the seam.

And later in the game, the Steelers aren’t in their dime defense but the same idea applies. Cover 1, one-on-one with Gronk, who shakes him on this double-move, stemming inside and then breaking away for a monster gain.

Mike Tomlin has expressed the desire to be a better man coverage team when required. A reminder of what he said during league meetings.

“Our inability to play man-to-man effectively, our inability to pressure the QB without blitzing, our inability to maintain balance as Le’Veon Bell was unavailable to us, were issues in [the Patriots game] specifically.” 

That’s broader than just dime defense but having that hybrid player would be key. Burns is capable of playing man, that’s what he was drafted for. Ross Cockrell was the team’s best man corner last year. The slot and any dime defender are where the biggest upgrades could be found.

* * * * *

Cover 2 asks Golden to be the deep hole defender, one of the obvious weaknesses of Cover 2. You can see an example, though I’m sure you can imagine it, of him being asked to from LeBeau’s playbook, a standard Cover 2 coverage. As LeBeau defined it, the “deep hole” is 16-22 yards deep though on this play, they’re asking for a depth of 25.

For a linebacker, that’s asking a lot. For a safety like Golden, it’s fairly natural for him and overall, he did well with that role, but there are times it requires a high level of athleticism. When Keith Butler wants to disguise it, Golden will line up near the LOS before bailing to the deep middle right before the snap.

He’s able to settle into coverage but if there’s a threat down the seam, Golden has to run with him. With the Cover 2 hole player always opening up to the field, that’s a lot of grass to cover. Safeties align two yards inside the numbers, meaning that hole defender has to have a lot of range.

That’s a huge advantage of having a defensive back here than a linebacker. Much easier for someone like Golden to get to his spot than a linebacker like Lawrence Timmons. And if you have a hyper-athlete like Melifonwu, he’s going to be able to cover that type of ground with ease, allowing your coverage to be more flexible and its pre-snap look more exotic. That’s what Troy Polamalu offered the defense. Quarterbacks couldn’t define the coverage because Polamalu was able to hide it for so long.

But there were times that as the deep hole defender, Golden simply didn’t have the athleticism to close. This 29 yard completion against the Buffalo Bills is a perfect example. Skinny post by #2. Golden sees it but can’t get to the catch point in tie and the pass is completed.

Pittsburgh has quickly seen their defense transform with Butler and Tomlin running the show. No longer are they just a Cover 3, Fire Zone defense. Tomlin, as we’ve written about many times before, has put his stamp on things, and blending his Dungy/Carson background with Butler’s 3-4 mindset.

Beyond the scheme is a simple philosophy to fill the Steelers’ defense with elite athletes who can cover the entire field. Ryan Shazier, Burns, Sean Davis, all guys who tested extremely well, the hope being a watered down scheme compared to LeBeau will get them on the field sooner and that athleticism can carry them the rest of the way.

That’s what this hybrid player can do for the Steelers’ defense and why they’re showing the interest they are. It’s a perfect time to make the move with Timmons officially gone and Vince Williams not an ideal candidate for a three down workload.

It’ll give the Steelers a better answer against teams who want to spread the field horizontally, give them another cover-first, top athlete on the field, and allows them to run more man coverage (2 Man, Cover 1 will be most common), and less of spot dropping zone, which got them into huge trouble in the Title game against the Patriots.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • srdan

    Great freaking article!

    Makes sense. What do you think about giving that much responsibility to a rookie? Could Davis play this role?

  • VaDave

    All well and good, but we need a big ugly up front that can blow up the interior passing pocket, or it doesn’t matter what you are doing back there. The opposing QBs are going to have too much time for someone to clear. When you look at the greatest defenses of all time, it’s a common denominator. Heyward, Tuitt and Hargrave are nice players, but hardly dominant.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Alex, it seems like another ILB to replace Timmons is also in order. I still have nightmares of him having to cover Edelman crossing. Any idea how to solve that, or just need a speedy new ILB?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I think the front three you mentioned will be great once both OLBs are legit and can really bring it.

  • srdan

    Tuitt seems dominant to me. Hargrave is a rookie who got a sack in teh AFCCG and certaily showed a burst. Hayward is the leader on defense.

    Yes I agree, if you measure them against JJ or Aaron donald, but if you measure them against the Atkins, Williams and so on…they’re right there.

  • VaDave

    None of them force a double team. Get all the LBS you want, they’re out numbered.

  • VaDave

    One play does not a dominant player make. I’ll agree Tuitt has the best potential to become that player out of what we have, but let me see him take over a game.

  • VaDave

    Paul. not to step in here, but this is exactly what I’m trying to suggest. The best way to defend this short crossing route is to obstruct the passing lanes, or mug the receiver which is illegal..

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Also Alex, based on this breakdown, which safety prospects are the best fit? Obie seems obvious but what about Peppers and others? Thx!

  • Mark

    We actually have 3 problems: Hybrid, ILB and Free Safety… The Steelers must upgrade from Mike Mitchell, Vince, and draft a TP type safety. I like Mike, however, he may have ran a 4.5 forty some time ago, however, that speed, vision, and/or knowledge isn’t there to cover the middle of the field of his half in cover 2. Whenever we are in the cover 2 look, the Pats immediately send 4 WRs deep and Brady lights us up.

  • Terrible Towlie

    or just hold them (WR) like the cheatriots….they wont call it everytime

  • The Tony

    I am not sure we are watching the same tape. Heyward is absolutely dominate. I’m guessing you don’t really remember since he was injured last year. As a 3-4 end, Heyward and Tuitt are not expected to get double digit sacks. When they are both healthy, they are going to be a complete force. It’s hard to judge Hargrave as well, since he has shown flashes of being really good. Considering he was a rookie, I’d say his arrow is pointing up

  • Smitty 6788

    Good write up Alex. I have been for drafting a safety that can play that role since the process began. Obi is my dream perfect for it imo.

  • falconsaftey43

    I think you undervalue Heyward and Tuitt a bit. We’ll see how Hargrave progresses. That said, even if they wanted a guy like that, I’m not sure there is even one in this draft, let alone one they’d have the opportunity to draft. Do you have any prospects in mind?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    So Dave, you’re thought is the Dline needs to be overhauled?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Regardless of what Aditi said regarding the Steelers using their first pick on either a safety or CB..

    Visits don’t show that. Safety yes. But CB visits have been players (other than one) who expectations are will be picked in the 3rd/4th rd.

  • capehouse

    It’s not always the quality of the players brought in, but the overall number. Steelers like to bring in a variety of players at the position of interest from 1st rd picks to UDFAs. Look at CB last year. I think there was 7 pre draft visits, which ranked 2nd most at one position behind Safety, and none of them were high draft picks, but we selected Artie Burns in rd 1.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Yeah but didn’t the team meet with Burns in Miami? I don’t have anything in front of my but my decaying memory, but I feel like they also met with Jackson III.

  • Kevin Reich

    Should have gave Shamarko a shot in actual games

  • capehouse

    Yup. Steelers just brought in Marlon Humphrey too. Also had the Steelers top brass at the Pro Days for White and Tankersley. Lewis and Douglas were in for visits too, and could be 2nd-3rd rd prospects.

  • Matt

    Awesome article

    Building to beat the Pats and dominate the AFC North seems to be the key. Pats definitely recognize that the Gronk/Hogan matchup on Golden and it seems to be their sweet spot.

    Looking at it from a more macro perspective we have problems against most Tight Ends. Seeing a healthy Eifert twice a year hurts too.

    So ideal guy is going to be another tweener?

    Mitchell has also been roasted a few times this year. Great for delivering the blows, but is he really that good?

  • Matt

    Does the Tyson Alualu signing make any impact? Seems to be solid but not dominant.

  • capehouse

    Lawson, Rivers and Watt will NOT make it to our pick in rd 2. If the Steelers pass on Lawson in rd 1 I’m just gonna SMH. I love the idea of getting a hybrid Safety but not until rd 2. Please!

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Agreed. Let’s face it for at least a couple more seasons we will need to beat Brady and the Pats to get our next SB.
    That means covering Gronk but more importantly PRESSURING BRADY. TB has always had the most difficulty with pressure up the gut (as do most QBs) and your suggest would do just that.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Agreed that we have excellent DEs, and I think Hargrave can be as well in time.
    I think VaDaves point is that A gap pressure works best and neither Heyward nor Tuitt can do that from DE – unless you use them inside in subpackages.

  • Biggie

    This is a great Safety draft and goes deep too. I’d be good with any of Peppers, Melifonwu, Jones, Baker or Justin Evans.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Unless we rectify it, my dying day memory of this era vs the Pats will be that little s**t Edelman running free on a crossing pattern while 94 chases him in vain!! AAARRGGHH!!!!!!!
    And I think Obi can help us both with Edelman AND Gronk.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    I think you named them, Paul. Obi and Peppers.

  • Delboka

    No one said that one play made anyone dominant.

    You just crap on everyone’s insight, and have no thoughts of your own.

    Btw kind of hard to have a dominant D-line when they play in a 3-4 for the majority of the time.

    Need to draft DBs.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    They are dominant run stoppers but average to below average pass rushers.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    That’s why I think a slot man cover guy is in order. Man up on those guys and if there’s a rush..

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Yea, because there’s always can’t miss prospects at pick #30

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Man.. forgot about Pro Day visits. And they were everywhere too.

  • Matt

    Only guy that will probably a better bet @ OLB than getting a solid hybrid safety is the linebacker from Temple – Haason Reddick. No chance he slips that low though.

  • Jason Vancil

    Would not shock me to see both Rivers and Lawson at 2.62. Never say never. Tuitt wasn’t supposed to drop to middle 2nd.

  • Ike Evans

    Budda baker….Josh jones….justin evans

  • Zuami Montanez

    People get mad at me when I say Mitchell is not good, he over pursues,bites on any fake, and is slow. We need to find his replacement hopefully it’s Obi.

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    Best explanation I’ve read. Great article! Let’s get a freak like Melifonwu and a few pass rushers…

  • StrengthOfVictory

    In fairness, Timmons was specifically schemed to cover Edelman in that game to limit him. The Steelers were fine letting him get the 5, 6, 7 yard completions. But they didn’t want him making the big plays that he was making in their prior matchup. Neither Edelman (nor Timmons covering him) was the reason the Steelers lost that game.

  • John Pennington

    Still need another safety because MM can’t cover or run with the new wideouts anymore and it showed in the Championship game and Golden is just a ST player so you have to draft guys who can play in the scheme and cut the players you no longer need.Cant keep giving these guys roster spots and they can’t do the job anymore.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I’m not sure which game you’re referring to. I’m thinking of the last few in recent memory. I know a couple of years ago Edelman opened the year with something like 11 receptions against the Steelers, many with Timmons trying to cover. Silly..

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I’m referring to the last home game against the Pats. Edelman had lot of receptions, sure, but he didn’t do anything with them. Timmons was there to tackle him so he didn’t get lots of YAC. Again, it was Tomlin’s idea to limit him (for whatever that’s worth). Keep him from making big plays.

  • Sam Clonch

    It’s so obvious. Just draft a Troy Polamalu type! How hard can it be to draft a first ballot HOF safety?

  • Nicholas Ewry

    I’m not sure how you are doing the math but it is awfully hard to win defensively if you are consistently giving up those 5-7 yard passes. That’s great that Timmons was trailing close enough to prevent Edleman from getting YAC but that is of little value on 3rd and 5.

  • Sam Clonch

    You’re basically arguing for them to change their entire defensive philosophy away from the 3-4. As 3-4 lineman go, Tuitt/Heyward/Hargrave are about as good a set as you could possibly ask for. The only way you’re getting more INTERIOR pressure is by switching to a 4 man front.

    You should’nt be giving our OLBs such a pass. THEY’RE the ones who aren’t bringing the heat. A good to go Dupree should help that a lot.

  • Ni mo

    Peppers is not good in coverage seems to get lost a lot I rather take obi ,jones or baker check peppers tape on bleacher report

  • Ni mo

    The knock on Lawson is his short arms and injury history I think he falls out of the first to mid second

  • VaDave

    Take a look at the two gifs from the Pat game above. There is zero pressure in the a-b gaps. Even if you get the DE’s to the drop back point ( not an easy task as they have to get through a Guard Tackle combo to get there), or even a LB from outside, there is plenty of room for the QB to step up. You will also notice how open the passing lanes are. In today’s game, if you can’t to the QB with four, you have a mismatch in the secondary somewhere Man, zone it doesn’t matter. If you send five, you still have a numerical blocking to defender mismatch if the RB stays in to block, and a worsening situation in the secondary. Do I think the DL needs to be overhauled. Of course not. What we need is a big stinking nasty unstoppable force that can destroy the A-B Gap and get in a QB face in two seconds or demand a guard center combo block. We do that, and you will immediately see major improvements in Heyward and Tuitt’s play along with a much more effective secondary.

  • Boots

    What we need are some guys that have some awareness and discipline! I don’t know how many gifs you’ve shown where guys just simply aren’t showing the awareness you’d expect NFL players to show. The example against the Bills is a prime example, Golden gets caught watching the QB and not playing his responsibility! If nothing else this is what guys mean when they say do your job and trust your teammates to do theirs.

  • VaDave

    LOL!!

  • VaDave

    Agree. Offensive execution being one of them.

  • VaDave

    Easy there fella. I’m not crapping on anybody’s stuff. And as for not having any thoughts of my own, who else around here is suggesting a dominant defensive tackle instead of secondary backs or linebackers? Our 3-4 oakie is our base D in name only. We run number of different alignments. We probably run 2- 4 or other alignments more than a 3-4 these days.

  • VaDave

    That may be true 43, and I have no clue about college players at all. But a sure as I’m sitting here, unless we come up with a solution to get in Brady’s face, or somehow become more offensively proficient against them, it’s game set match every time we play them.

  • H.K. northern cali

    Need to get to the qb alot more to help out the secondary.

  • Craig M

    It’s a lot easier to plug a rookie into a starting position when you lack real quality DB starters and it will show in their play/ lack of knowledge. Le Beau was stuck w/ poor quality DBs for most of his last three seasons w/ us. I don’t care how much ability you have you must know the system or the whole team suffers while someone learns. Now I don’t believe in 2-3 seasons of learning on the bench but I do believe someone let this team down on fielding a solid D and, to me, just waiting for draft prospects to develop is not the answer. With great players like Polamalu shortcomings can be covered up (But) not pressuring the QB at the start of last season was exposing poor coaching quality. IMO

  • Craig M

    Lambert was great because Greene was always double teamed.

  • Alex Kozora

    Sure. You can do both. It’s not either/or.

  • Alex Kozora

    Davis could but I would prefer to keep him where he’s at. Been moved around enough. Let him flourish in one spot.

  • Alex Kozora

    Man, Dave, I can’t agree with really any of that.

  • Craig M

    I’d like to see someone put some ben gay in McCullers jock and get him in there w/ a 4 man rush.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s more of a job for a slot corner to deal with. Another reason why I’ve wanted the team to invest in one and not just be content with Sensabaugh.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yeah you guys got them all pretty much. I’ve mentioned the late rounders too. Nate Gerry and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

  • Alex Kozora

    lol

  • cencalsteeler

    This article is like having the clouds subsiding while the sun starts shining through. You hit the nail on the head here, Alex. Awesome, awesome, awesome!

  • Craig M

    Penny to a pint of piss, (and you can hold the bet) 🙂 ,that Hargrave becomes dominant this season- I hope, I hope, I hope. 🙂

  • capehouse

    What?

  • VaDave

    You certainly know a lot more about Xs and Os than I do. No doubt about it. I’m assuming you have seen the A-B gap play on the two gifs from above and feel that is acceptable?? This is a chronic problem with our defense and has been for years. You fix that, and it solves a lot of problems.

  • Craig M

    Alex, what is your take on Matakevich?

  • Alex Kozora

    I just think generally speaking, we all know what Tuitt and Heyward bring to the table. They don’t need upgrading. And Hargrave, of course, showed tons of promise.

  • VaDave

    Arm Shazier with a cattle prod…

  • VaDave

    Bingo, but like somebody posted on this thread joking about how easy it would be to just find another Palamalu, maybe be we should just draft another Greene? LOL!

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Yup that would work as well!

  • capehouse

    I don’t know. I’ve been a fan all along and have been going on the rd 2 ride for the past few weeks as his game continues to get picked apart but I think he’s the most developed pass rusher in the draft. Can’t see him lasting all the way to 62.

  • VaDave

    You sais it. A solid pick up and an upgrade over the guy from San Diego.

  • capehouse

    Yeah and maybe his value at 30 is not perfect but mid second would obviously mean he doesn’t make it to the Steelers 2nd rd pick

  • VaDave

    I hope so. He was a steal in that round.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Matt I hear ya and likely he will not slip.
    But I participated in similar discussions several years ago and DeCastro fell to us. And Tuitt, and well we could go on.
    Seems as if many times in our history someone has fallen (STILL shudder thinking of Aaron Rodgers on his draft day!!) and often we are there to catch them.
    Never say never when it comes to the draft!!

  • Craig M

    LOL, thanks needed that. 🙂

  • Alan Tman

    We might draft two!!

  • Craig M

    I think Hargrave steps it up a notch this season.

  • Jason Vancil

    It’s unlikely he lasts. I’m just going off the “big board” lists i have seen and most put him in the 40-65 range. It could happen, but all it takes is one team really liking a player to have him go anywhere.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Right, Timmons did tackle him. But after that little s**t Edelman (the only way I can say his name is with that preface attached to it 😎) had already picked up a first down (or most of 10 yards).
    TB has another three downs.
    He has KILLED us, dude!!

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Just looked it up. Little s**t Edelman – 8 receptions on 10 targets for 118 yards.
    Only Hogan had more yards -180!!

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Exactly!

  • Alex Kozora

    Good special teamer in 17. That’s where his focus should be.

  • VaDave

    So If I understand correctly, you are of the opinion that Hargrave’s improved play is going to provide the kind of interior pressure this defense needs to succeed? I like Hargrave a lot, but I’m going to disagree with that. Maybe if all three of Heyward, Tuitt, and Hargrave have career years, it will certainly help, but you also have to consider we don’t use a 3-4 alignment as permanent alignment. Where is the pressure going to come from? Blitzes?

  • VaDave

    A for holding that pint, I am on diuretics….. at my age that’s a bit of a disadvantage you know…lol.

  • VaDave

    Like somebody else said, his arrow is definitely pointing up. Considering all the things said here today, with a little more upper body strength, he could be a real handful for sure.

  • Ni mo

    True I rather take Basham in the second over Lawson , I’m just not a believer in Lawson for not what I saw I could be wrong

  • srdan

    Never say never is right. But middle of second and last 4 picks of second are two different things. You have to go through playoff teams to that pick. Teams like that usually don’t have a lot of holes and everyone would stock up on a pass rusher given the talent being there.

  • Matt

    The game is getting faster. Our OLBs are not getting faster. Dupree is awesome but thats all we have on the outside to put pressure on the QB. Speed Kills. Von Miller ran a 4.49 and Vic Beasley ran a 4.53 at their combines. Speed is always the game changer.

  • Consistent

    Lol the 1st thing I said when I read this,”Great Article!” Great job Alex,I’m completely convinced on a slot/hybrid Saftey at this point(maybe even more so than a pass rushing edge)at #30

    We HAVE to improve those specific flaws in the defense

  • VaDave

    Ain’t that the truth!

  • Steeler4l1f3

    This article and Tomlins emphasis of playing a hybrid cover 2 out of Nickel, 3-4 & 4-3 under proves that the philosophy on defense and in turn scouting has changed.

    Key points:
    We need pressure with 4
    Need to play man coverage
    Need corners with press capabilities
    Need high end athletes with range and speed

    This is why I feel we need hybrid S, press corner, athletic OLB and a 4-3 end with length that can play 5 tech. This is also why I feel we need to draft defense in the first 4 rounds or at least 4/5 picks. Or even better, trade out of #1 and grab an extra 3rd. This way we can address​ all of our defense needs plus two of the following: RB/TE/WR

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of adding a home run hitter at WR or a vertical TE in the first few rounds but we have too many needs on defense. Grab a Josh Reynolds or Isaiah Ford in the 4th and a Michael Roberts in the 5th.

  • Robert E Lil

    When I read the names “Gronkowski” and “Golden” in the same sentence together –
    It’s enough to make you melt down.

    Yes. God yes. Focus on the secondary and in particular that safety postition

  • Sdale

    And his questionable run D

  • Darth Blount 47

    I agree that THIS is the year and that THIS is the draft, but will Colbert pull the trigger early in order to get a guy who fills such a niche role? I have my doubts. HOWEVER, I actually think you probably hit the nail on the head early in the article, a good one by the way, and then kinda glossed over it for the obvious reasons of it being mere speculation…. Mitchell being replaced.

    Not due to lack of smarts, athleticism, leadership, tackling ability, etc.. that most Steeler fans on this forum WANT to push him out for, but a more simpler reason: Cost.

    If Colbert can draft a guy this year, who has both the ability to play a $backer role, while we still have Mitchell and are willing to pay his salary for this year, and then can take that guy and transition him to a starting FS role next year, I can see Colbert being excited to make the investment.

    Cutting Mitchell this year would result/have resulted in a 6.27 million dollar dead money hit if it were to be done pre-June 1st. BUT… to designate him a post-June 1st cut, would cause the exact same dead-money cap hit this year, as it would next. And whether you cut him pre or post June 1st next year, carries again the same level of hit. Both those numbers being a 3.1 dead money hit, whilst saving 5 million dollars off of the cap.

    Now, Mitchell’s cap number for BOTH this year and next, will ultimately be the same, barring any maneuvering. A hit of 8.1 million. So are we going to draft a guy in the 1st round who will simply only play a role as a $backer for the next 2 years as we pay Mitchell over 16 million dollars? It’s possible. It’s also not a guarantee that you HAVE to draft a guy at 30 in order to fill the aforementioned role. But as I’ve said before, when you draft a Safety, it’s usually best to go ahead and pay for Top-Shelf, and steer clear away from the well drinks. (Much less chance for a dreaded hangover)

    Drafting a Safety this year in Round 1 to fill that role, could send shockwaves through the rest of the draft. Because what do you do in the 2nd round then? OLB? CB? If you go CB… then you’re waiting until the 3rd round and beyond before we address our biggest off-season need. If you go OLB, the CB class would almost certainly need to be hit in round 3, and that may mean we go D, D, D with our 1st 3 selections. Which I’m all for. But I’m not totally sold based on pre-draft visits that we actually are ready to go that route.

    And if Bryant isn’t re-instated pre-draft, where do we squeeze a WR in at? Or do we? AH, the wonders of draft day. Should be a hoot…

  • Robert E Lil

    Ironically, Mike Mitchell saved the season when the Raven’s Kyle Juszczyk ran him over on his way to scoring the go-ahead TD. Had Mitchell been able to make a tackle the Ravens would not have scored so easily – so quickly…and Ben had the time to come back down the field

  • Darth Blount 47

    Jordan Willis could provide pressure from a myriad of places along the line. Just for example. DT, DE, OLB…

    That’s one of the reasons he’s potentially so intriguing for me, for us.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Where would you suggest we primarily play Reddick year 1, if he indeed fell to us?

  • Darth Blount 47

    If not Jordan Willis, maybe a D-Lineman like Tanoh Kpassagnon?

  • Darth Blount 47

    Reminds me of Phillip Finch in the movie, ‘Wildcats.’

  • Darth Blount 47

    I resemble that remark…

  • Darth Blount 47

    Nate who? 😉

  • Darth Blount 47

    Love me some Joshy Jones…

  • Darth Blount 47

    We’re certainly paying him to be pretty damn good.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I just read 3 mocks in a row that have Lawson now in the 3rd round…

  • Ni mo

    Alex a little off subject even tho Bryant is suspended will they allow him to attend Papi rooneys memorial ?

  • Darth Blount 47

    I’ve always thought that Golden’s biggest problem seemed to be from the neck up. Physically, he’s got most of the tools.

  • Ni mo

    I read that too and rivers moved ahead I felt him along with Bashum

  • Darth Blount 47

    I’ve always been a MM supporter on here. But I just can’t see us spending a 1st round pick on a guy that we won’t let have Mitchell’s spot – sooner rather than later. Not for the price Mitchell is costing.

  • Robert E Lil

    Dude
    Go check out that replay. Kyle Juszczyk.
    It is brutal. Just brutal

  • Darth Blount 47

    No need. I watched it live. Plus, I avoid watching anything that has to do with the Ratbirds during the off-season. It kinda spoils my lunch and dinner, otherwise. In fact, I’m already getting a tad nauseous just thinking about them.

  • mokhkw

    I think they are looking for a Safety who can also play the Slot, not a hybrid.

    What Alex describes above was done over a decade ago with Derrick Brooks. And we already have a player with the same skill set as Brooks in Shazier. So if we are looking for a “hybrid” player to do what is described then we already have one imo.

    Personally I don’t think we will see hardly any Dime from the Steelers, the results of running a 2 man DL are painfully obvious and the players behind them are not the solution because no-one can cover forever if there is no QB pressure.

    I expect to see more 3DL 3LB 5 DB Nickel packages tbh. That means you don’t have to replace Timmons or upgrade from Vince Williams & you can have a pass rush as well.

  • steeltown

    I would be thrilled. Safety/hybrid in the 1st and OLB/Edge in the 2nd Rd

  • LucasY59

    I have commented on here multiple times about how even though it sounds crazy, the Steelers should draft Melifonwu in the 1st and Baker in the 2nd, and the cap savings of getting rid of MM sooner rather than later are just an added bonus with the overall improvement of the Secondary, the reason why I want both is that both could get on the field early and would allow them to have a good sub package group for the future, drafting just Melifonwu means they would need to draft another hybrid guy the following yr (or a 3 down capable ILB)

  • LucasY59

    1st Melifonwu
    2nd Rivers
    3rd Kpassagnon
    comp Lewis

  • LucasY59

    both are needed, and by getting a guy like Melifonwu in the 1st and the best OLB available in the 2nd they have a decent shot at helping both needs on D

  • cencalsteeler

    Ya know, I’m sticking my neck out here, but this article supports a lot of us who felt Shazier would fit this type of mold. We’ve been criticized for thinking this, but I honestly don’t feel we were out in left field as much as some may have thought.

  • LucasY59

    there were some times last yr where he was so out of position it definitely seemed like a mental issue

  • John

    Based on how things may fall, you have to think there is a good chance we will take Peppers or Obi in round one. Unless they think Tim Williams is worth it.

  • LucasY59

    I am guessing that he thinks none of the 3 you mentioned are so good they cant pass them up at #30

    IMO there is a better chance of one of those guys (or a similar player like Bowser, McKinley, or Basham) being there at #62, but they will be lucky if a player like Melifonwu is there at #30, so if there was one player you know you only have one shot of getting, it is the Safety and so taking him at #30 is worth it

  • Darth Blount 47

    Hey, if Baker can play Slot CB, and I think we both say that he can, then basically you are going Safety – CB, even though a layperson would see it as S – S.

    But do we really avoid drafting either OLB or ILB until the 3rd and beyond? It just seems very unlikely in my opinion.

  • LucasY59

    yep passing on OLB gets tricky, but the overall impact to the D that those two players would have makes it worth it IMO, but agree (and have said) that it is highly unlikely to happen (having both of them available at those picks is lucky to start with)

  • LucasY59

    the problem is they need two players like Shazier

  • LucasY59

    I wouldnt be against it, a guy like Obi in the 1st and Safety that can cover the slot later is a possibility, and I wouldnt rule out a FS ballhawk either (so that the team can continue to use the Dime package in the future)

  • Ni mo

    Alex a little off subject would they allow Bryant to tend Papi rooneys memorial since he’s suspended and can’t be around the team ?

  • LucasY59

    Both

    he could play on the edge for some plays, but could also be the ILB that doesnt need to be subbed out in sub package, most of the time he would be ILB IMO

  • LucasY59

    Kpass!

  • LucasY59

    Greene liked Hargrave (and is one of the main reasons he was drafted IMO) Javon might not be Mean Joe (no one really is) but a guy that had Greene as a reference should be good

  • SoCal Steeler

    Lol, I feel the same way, them and the Cheatriots.

  • John Phillips

    Lambert was also he hybrid cover player this whole article is about.

  • SoCal Steeler

    Good article, Alex! With all the interest and visits we’ve seen, I think you can take it to the bank, we are drafting a hybrid S-LB in the first or second round.

  • Boots

    I know what Alex is getting at with the hybrid stuff, and that’s all well and good if you can find it. I think what it’s coming down to is you need a nickel cb and a nickel safety. If you can find a hybrid type great, otherwise you need a third starting quality safety as well with the way the game has evolved.

  • cencalsteeler

    Obi is not far off. 🙂

  • Taylor Williams

    Pats still beat us when we had Troy

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Hard to say. Seems like we can’t lose though because he has already proven he can play EDGE at the NCAA level, but I think he would be pretty dynamiteas Shaziers partner at ILB as well.
    At first, until he adjusts to the NFL game, AT WORST we could use him as a situational pass rusher.

  • Craig M

    I hear you, at 70 I don’t pass be to many restrooms- just in case.:)

  • Shane Mitchell

    I am starting to change my mind about Jabril Peppers,I went back and watched some of Jabril Peppers tape along with a nice scouting report Brett Kollman has on youtube “The Film Room Ep. 29: Jabrill Peppers Scouting Report” Highly recommend giving it a view. The guy that did the scouting report wasnt a fan of Peppers going in but after he dug deeper into what Peppers was asked to do at Michigan he also changed his mind. Peppers talks about playing the hybrid position in college and how the Michigan coaches had him study tape of hybrid Matt Milano, I like that Peppers was willing to put the team needs first.

    Tomlin wants someone that can play man, well Peppers fits the bill, he is at his best in man coverage and he is also a player that Tomlin can mold into what he needs him to be, he is highly coachable, add that with the ability to return kicks day 1 and even the possibility of being a backup RB and I suddenly see Peppers as a Steeler.

    Right now I have Budda Baker/ Jabril Peppers about even.

  • Michael Conrad

    I agree you have it down to a T. OLB. big edge with speed . S and a CB. No Dri Archers. I think you could sneak in one O player in the top five picks but to me I would go S , OLB ,EDGE and CB as you can get a man cover slot CB in the third.

  • Michael Conrad

    I would love those picks.

  • Michael Conrad

    Lawson is dropping like a rock. I always say look at the mock boards not the mock draft picks of so called experts .Look at the NFL .com site and you will see how the players start to move up or down the last week.

  • Roger G

    Yes but perhaps even more egregious was Bud just watching Juszcyk make his way into the end zone. At least Mitchell made an effort to stop him.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I tried to tell Alex and others early on about Lawson, but nobody was listening… :’-(
    But seriously, I think Lawson has good pass-rush skills, which is obviously what we need. But he’s very deficient in my eyes in so many areas/measurables.
    I don’t hate Lawson, and for a bargain rate, I’d make him a part of a double-dip. But he’s the literal definition of “middle-of-the-pack” as far as OLB/Edge I hope we get.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Great explanation about a lot of things!

    Do you think Myrick can play this role? He is stiffy and short, but he CAN run and he is very good supporting the run. He will have to transition from CB to this hybrid role, but as a fourth rounder we can do worse. I´m just saying this coz Steelers showed a lot of interest in him.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Well written article, enjoyed it.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Agree.

  • Matt

    anywhere they could stick him.

    started his college career as a Safety and then moved to OLB. Hopefully just anywhere he could hit people.

    Hope he doesn’t go anywhere else in the division.

  • Tom McConnell

    I’ve been saying for a couple months that we’re light a d-lineman. We saw this last season when Heyward went down. I like Walton & even McCullers, but not for extended play.

    1st need OLB
    2nd need Corner
    3rd need D-line

  • Darth Blount 47

    I agree, it would be nice to have, but OLB/Slot CB are the two biggest needs right now. Plus depth at ILB and a quality backup RB.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yes, I absolutely do. And sure, if you want additional pressure, you’re going to blitz. Shazier can do it. Scheme will create that. Don’t always need top talent. That’s how Will Allen got a bunch of sacks two years ago.

  • Alex Kozora

    Nah, just too small. Not going to solve the issue against the move Y types.

  • Alex Kozora

    I think I’ve been asked to watch that video 20 times by 10 different people, ha. I’m sure it’s very good. Bottom line for me though is the guy didn’t make a lot of impact plays. His box score is light. And it’s not like he’s a shutdown corner where teams can just scheme away from him. He was a LB, he was a S, he was living in the middle of the field.

    Wasn’t a talent issue. Played with a ton of it. Charlton and Wormley are Day One/Two picks. Jourdan Lewis is Day Two talent. Glasgow is a late round guy. Ditto with Gedeon. All under Don Brown, to me, the best DC in college football in a scheme that let his guys make big plays. Peppers didn’t. Will that change in the pros? Will he go from a guy who didn’t force fumbles or pick off passes, or even break them up, to that type of player in the NFL? It’s unlikely.

    It’s not a fit thing for me. People say that and it’s wrong – you can make it work. The dude was just too quiet, too often. I can’t make those kind of excuses for my first round pick.

    Plus, he is on the smaller side. 5’10 is still a tough task if he’s covering Eifert.

  • Gautama Om

    Thanks to Dick Lebeau’s zone defense.

  • Shane Mitchell

    I dont see a lack of football instincts with Peppers on tape, I dont think he is on the level of Budda Baker with his instincts in zone coverage but I would say he is on par with Melifonwu, Peppers had 10 passes defensed his 1 season of playing safety, more than Budda or Melifonwu has ever had for a season, Obi only had 3 passes defensed on the season last year.

    I am also not thinking so much about who I like, but more about who Colbert and Tomlin might like and why, big school prospect, great athlete, a player Tomlin can mold into what he wants him to be for the defense, could solve a lot of problems with the scheme and roster, it all kind of leads me to believe he is the pick if he is still on the board, I like Budda better but I bet they would go with Peppers instead.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Part of the appeal is it could drastically lessen the need for drafting another ILB early because we would be playing more dime defense, so you are getting Safety-CB-ILB in one pick.

  • Jeffrey Haynes

    We tried to get A gap pressure in that game but we dropped the OLBs too much. This allowed the pat’s o-line to pinch. And double team Hargrave and Tuitt with Heyward out.

  • Zarbor

    Alex,

    This might be your best work to date. Dude, this in on point. This is the kinda stuff I’ve been longing for from this site when it comes to analysis of our defense. I completely agree and see where this all makes sense. Obi would be great at that spot. I think he would be a better fit than Peppers who IMO is too small. Where in the draft do you see Obi going? We most likely will be taking a pass rusher first round.

  • Dubb Betts

    I agree with what you said about Peppers on defense I think he could be big for the Steelers. He might not make a ton of big plays but his role will help others around him shine. I’m​ hoping he’s our guy. But with how Tomlin is I don’t think there is any chance they try him as a returner.

  • Alex Kozora

    I would be surprised if Obi fell all the way down. And I wouldn’t be so sure they’ll take an OLB in the first..it’s wide open.

  • Alex Kozora

    But no interceptions or forced fumbles….why not?

    And he doesn’t have Melifonwu’s size.