Well my last post ran a little long so i cut it off midway after finishing with the offense.
This year with all the changes being made on defense, I feel that they will be almost as good as last year if not better. Breaking down from Safeties to Cornerbacks, Linebackers to D-line. Including the depth chart and possibly Play calling preferences that I might do a little differently. Although i will never go against "dad" due to his larger defensive mental capacity. Our defense is younger and becoming more and more promising each year, especially with the addition of Carnell Lake at defensive backs coach. Our D-line looks to have dropped off a little bit but we still have strong athletic guys on it that can put up a wall for runners to get stopped. The linebackers that we have and have aqcuired are going through changes that will overall make them better in todays game. Here is why.
D-line: The young and the restless
Our defensive linemen are the unsung heroes of the NFL because they sacrifice glory for wins. That will not change. we have the sure handed Brett Keisel who is the veteran and anchor of that defensive line this year. I believe that he has been the anchor for a while due to Aaron Smith being injured almost non stop for the last couple of years and Casey beginning to decline in his effectiveness. Where we placed in the league in stopping the run is evidence of this unfortunately. Not to say that he isn't good still but its time to develop some new talent. We have Cameron and Ziggy who will compete for the starting role on the LE but I'm happy with either one, Ziggy has my vote. My big question mark is the inside at NT. I liked the interview with Taamu as he is already accustomed to creating room for the linebackers to execute, and I have no doubt he is strong enough either. I do think that, unless he proves otherwise, that he may not yet have the awareness to find the runner to know what way to crash. In college he was able to just toss the guy blocking him out of the way half the time but its not that easy in the NFL. All in all I think our defensive line will not have much drop. With giving the young guys an opportunity to start in the beginning of the season it will provide a sense of know how and accomplishment as well as more reps to develop them. I dont think the DEs we have are as good as Aaron Smith but they will hold their own. And Ta'amu will be the best candidate for the starting job if not in the beginning then by the end of the year even with a healthy Hampton.
Linebackers: A change is gonna come
Linebacker has always been the strong point on our team and i think it will continue. James Harrison may fall off a little bit, and refs aren't calling holds on him at all it seems so he's not as effective as years past. The thing with Harrison is he Is still top two ROLB in the league with Ware being the only one ahead and even that can be argued so really.... no down side at all there. He is also underrated in zone coverage and instincts. Woodley, arguably our best linebacker which is saying a lot with Harrison on the other side. He will have an amazing year. We also have Timmons who is currently considered our Mack but i think he can play Buck and may be better suited for Buck and here's why. He is good at block shedding he is smart and has great instincts. He has increased his mass to become a better Buck linebacker and still posses the athleticism of a Mack. If they could move him to Buck then i would like to see Spence at Mack. With today's passing and quick offenses that are being incorporated I think to ILBs that can play Mack is more valuable than a Mack and a Buck. We all saw Farrior get beat deep by TE's this year and I don't think that would have happened as easily with Timmons or Spense. I understand we need that veteran on the field with Foote but i think he is more of the locker room leader not so much a producer on the field. He is reliable but lacks a little bit of athleticism that the rest of our Linebackers have. Do I actually think Spence will start.... Hell no. Not with our defense being as complicated as it is but I can't wait till he does. Don't let me forget Sly, who I think could start over Foote due to youth and athleticism but he does lack the leadership role that we may need out there. He will definitely rotate in but not as much as I think he should. Look to him to be starting later in the season.
Don't think that my dream of two Macks on the field is going to happen much this year unless its two minute drills but I hope it does happen next year. All in all I want our linebacking core to look like this: Harrison, Timmons/Spence, Foote/Sly/Timmons, and Woodley. I don't think there will be a great deal of consitancy in depth chart for ILBs but the level of play will stay consistant.
Defensive Backs: The Young Money Crew of the defense
Our defensive back field is Very promising and i think we may need a slight change on how our safeties play. Polamalu is definitely still the anchor but i would like to see him roaming in coverage more than he has in the past few years and i would like to see Clark play slightly more conservatively by staying back in coverage. I only say this because Polamalu Is amazing in the front 8 but is starting to fall off a bit on his ball skills in coverage he is still the best in the league, second only to Reed though. I think the cause for this is our run defense fell off a bit last year because our front seven was beginning to get a little up there in age and our D-line had some inconsistancies with injuries. Because of this Polamalu felt the need to help with run defense more than he should have, but again he makes the right decisions by understanding this. I also think that Ryan Clark is beginning to play more like a Strong safety as well which might be the cause of some big plays being given up (may be my biggest concern).
Cornerbacks seem to have evolved to one of the deepest units in the league under the tutilage of Carnell Lake. Our young corner backs have shown loads of promise and I think that unit as a whole will continue to get better through competition and experience. Hopefully some of our young guys will become good enough to not only start opposite of Ike but even replace him as a starter next year. I love Ike but with the increase in passing in this league he needs to not only shut down WRs but also create turnovers. Brown, Lewis, Allen, Terrence Frederick, Andre Freeman, Terry Carter, and Ike Taylor all have the ability and/or potential to start this coming year and/or next few years. Because of this it also makes for an inexpensive corps of cornerbacks.
Another Pipe dream, Is to see if Spence has the coverage skills, speed and quickness to potentially be groomed to move to Strong Safety, crazy i know. But then there are apparently a good group of Safeties coming in next year's draft.
Coaching: the genius behind the steel curtain
Carnell Lake is amazing enough said. Dick Lebeau is the pillar of awesomeness. Keith Butler is great at developing linebackers but i think in today's evolution of passing offenses, If Lebeau stays for two more years i think Carnell Lake may be poised to become the heir apparent to "Dad". Although i don't want to see Butler leave. The biggest test in coaches this year is how John Mitchell develops our D-line. If he can develop Ta'amu to BE ABLE to start at least midway through the season we will be number one in defense again this year. Not saying he has to start but just have the ability to start, which part of me thinks he has already. If their is anything else that needs to be said about coaches its that they need to make sure that they don't start anyone too early before they are ready. There is a lot of young guys and with the loss of some vets they are going to fill some roles with experience over ability at least for the first half of the season.
Overall: An look at the forest outside the trees.
Our defense last year was number one. The reason is obvious we are good on defense and its hard to find places to improve without giving up something. It seemed that decent offenses were able to run on us way too easily last year than years prior, I think because we were over compensating for the pass. If it wasn't for the help of our safeties I think we would have been ranked even lower in the run. We need our D-line and linebackers to have the ABILITY to hold it down with or without Troy in the box. Not saying they have to just that they need the ability to. Our pass defense was overrated last year in my opinion. Being number one is fine but too many big plays were given up in big games. Ravens through long bombs almost twice in a row, running the same play and the second one scored the winning touchdown against us. Woodley said it best when he said they need to improve in turnovers and big plays. We gave up big plays because we were so busy stopping the short passes and getting beat more often than normal in the run game. By no means were we bad but it may have cost us the much needed first round bye last year. I believe with Lake, and Dick and Harrison being healthy as well as Woodley, that turnovers will not be a problem at all. I think Polamalu will be great again this year and will produce more turnovers in the secondary than last year with the younger more athletic front seven. I think the next thing we need to look at providing depth for is safeties, and a stud outside linebacker on the right side in next years draft. I like Ryan Clark but he is becoming a little to aggressive to be a counter part for Polamalu. When we had Chris Hope, Hope would still lay hits on people but he was very conservative and would stay deep in coverage all the time to allow Troy the freedom to roam underneath.
Comments below please.