Steeler Nation is excited. And rightly so. We've had a fantastic draft, and we definitely made a solid attempt at improving our biggest weakness. I'm sure most people would unanimously agree that our biggest weakness, at least up until a few weeks ago, was our Offensive Line. Well with the addition of two top picks, we project to be one of the best O-line units for years to come.
Of course, nobody can predict 100% how our newly drafted players will pan out. But with the encouraging growth seen in Pouncey and Gilbert, and the new highly touted picks of DeCastro and Adams, many here feel we'll have an O-line with at least 4 good components, and possibly 5.
I agree with those sentiments wholeheartedly. But it leaves me wondering, what is our next weakest position? Where do we have to start focusing on now? Having dealt with our biggest problem, the next challenge is identifying the 'next biggest concern'.
I'd like to know what you fellow BTSC'ers think about this, and I'll offer up my opinion on the matter.
A year ago, our O-line was terrible and our Secondary was ready to bite the dust. These were the two biggest concerns on the table. Well it seems like last year we righted the ship in the Secondary. Lewis developed as a good playmaker, Gay played very well in his nickel role, and Ike dominated as usual. WIth a healthy Polamalu we were unstoppable.
In other areas we grew stronger, particularly in the WR department. Despite losing Ward, the addition of Cotchery proved wise down the stretch, and the development of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown was profound.
Our offense seems ready to take a leap forward, especially with the new schemes designed by Todd Haley. With two Pro-Bowl receivers, a solid corps at RB, and one of the best QBs in the game, along with a new and improved O-line, I think offense might actually be the least of our problems for a while.
So that leaves the defense as the chief concern.
Starting up front, the D-Line looks ready for a complete turnover. While we have yet to see Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward take the reins, they've been getting a lot of playtime. With Aaron Smith gone, and Hampton out for the forseeable future, we're sure to witness the birth of a new D-line. With Ta'Amu now on the team, we can expect a solid young line for years to come.
Our defensive backs are improving at corner, although Safety is becoming a concern. Polamalu has a propensity for injury, and Clark is no longer as fast or as reactive as he once was.
But the strength of the D has always been its vicious pass rush. The Linebackers rule the field. When we get pressure, we get turnovers. And skillful WR-QB combos don't have time to develop their plays against our secondary. We've gotten away with this for years, but we saw how hard it was when our pass rush didn't live up to its usual expectations.
Last year in particular, many people noted the lack of turnovers. A large portion of this in my opinion was due to the injuries sustained by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Rarely playing on the field together, they still had respectable statistics, but not the Pro-Bowl, DPOY numbers they've had in recent history.
And more concerning was that behind them, we had virtually no one. Timmons slid over for a large part of the year, and was relatively ineffective at OLB. As Farrior got older, we saw Foote was a slightly lesser version of the same.
Our Buck ILB is probably our biggest weakness. With Foote and Sylvester on the roster at the moment, a lot of question marks arise. Foote is getting older, and plays well but hardly commands the field the way Farrior did. Sylvester is still an unknown at this point. The speculation of Sean Speance entering this mix seems to have ended with coaching saying he's destined to backup Timmons at Mack ILB.
The key to identifying a weakness is determining how much opposing teams can exploit that weakness. We saw this at times, for instance large TEs lining up over small CBs (William Gay) and strong pass rushers dominating Jonathan Scott. To me, nothing was more easy to exploit than fast RBs like Ray Rice flying past Farrior or Foote on 3rd down. Because we depend on a zone defense, it's even more important for those guys to move fluidly through zones and cover middle routes.
This is to me the only position we've really lost talent in. Hopefully our staff finds a way to fill this gap. The recent free agent visits are encouraging. Our depth at LB is very shallow right now, and we definitely can highlight at least one position that needs improvement sooner rather than later.
I'd also make an argument for a kicker, but I like to think with our new offense we'll be able to survive with Suisham for another year.
Safety, RB, WR may be concerns in the future, but for now ILB is our biggest position of need. Our defense is our best asset, and it's at its best when 11 quality guys are on the field. We saw last year, losing 2-3 of those guys at once hurt our game considerably. With the injection of youth at other key positions, ILB seems to be the one spot lagging behind. Hopefully if the other 10 guys play their best games, we can hide this deficiency for another year, but it's been a liability in recent seasons, and it hasn't gotten any better.
I'm really hoping we land a FA ILB that can compete for that Buck position, and solidify this defensive unit for this season while we look for the next LB in the draft.