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All Things 2014: Part One - Roster Projections - Defense

Now that we have had a couple weeks to digest the draft and get a quick evaluation on most of our new players, I have decided to start a series of articles that will be projecting just about every major detail of the 2014 season.

Today I will be doing roster predictions for the Steelers Defense. Tomorrow will be the offense. Then every day I will post an in depth break down of our schedule for this year and predict the out come of each game. In a couple of weeks I will have fully predicted the Steelers 2014-(2015) season.

These articles are meant to be an open discussion and the things I predict are educated projections for what could feasibly happen. I like to do these so I can later look back on how terribly wrong I was about certain teams/games, and so I can see which bold predictions I made that ended up paying off. Hope you enjoy this series!

I am going to start on the more intriguing side of the ball, Defense. Going into OTA's, and eventually training camp, there will be some of the most intense positional battles on our front seven. We have all sorts of untapped and young potential along the front seven and it will be one of the more exciting position battles in recent memory.

Defensive Line:

I considered breaking this up into two sections, "NT" and "DE", but with the increasing demand of guys who play both on the inside and on the end, it would have been too hard to categorize certain players.

DL:

Spot Locked Down:

  • Cameron Heyward (DE) - He had a breakout season last year after some fans had already labeled him a bust. That just shows how the DL Coach, John Mitchell, likes to reshape players to fit the Steelers complex 3-4 defensive scheme. Should continue to improve and play at an All-Pro level.
  • Steve McLendon (NT) - After signing him to a three year deal through the 2015/2016 season, he was not exactly what many of us had hoped last year. To be fair, a negative picture of McLendon was painted through a series of misleading stats. Cameron Heyward said in an interview that he expects Mclendon to make the leap this year and start to dominate the middle. One can only hope.

Fighting for the 3rd "Starting" Spot:

  • Stephon Tuitt (DE/NT) - If he gets back to his 2012 form, he would have a pretty good shot at being the 3rd starter. He is has good length and athleticism and he is versatile enough to play inside or on the end. If he is not the 3rd starter he would at least be in on every sub-package. Some of the Steeler's coaching staff also said in an interview that in the past players haven't had to start in their rookie season, but that is not the case anymore. That seems to be a pretty fair hint that Tuitt is basically expected to start.
  • Cam Thomas (DE/NT) - We signed him in free agency to help fill the holes on the D-Line with a veteran presence. He can play either position on the line and has had flashes of brilliance in his few years in the NFL. Flashes are all they are though so far, and until he can string those flashes together, I don't believe there is much to be excited about with him.
  • Brian Arnfelt (DE) - A past UDFA that we have been developing. He has the tools and the college tape that have some people excited. He was also a recipient of the "BTSC camp hero" award. He seems to have the potential, but at some point if that potential never comes to fruition then potential means nothing. I would consider Arnfelt a longshot to break into the lineup as a starter.
  • Josh Mauro (DE) - He was a priority free agent after the 2014 NFL draft. BTSC had him graded out as a potential mid round selection for the Steelers and numerous websites had Josh Mauro graded as a top 10 UDFA signee. He seems to be a steal in the making and he has drawn comparisons to Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith. Not bad company to be compared to. Also, a long shot for the 3rd starting spot.

I am no expert on the 53 man roster, but I cannot see the Steelers taking all of these DL. That would be committing nearly 1/6 of our 53 man roster to the DL... not going to happen. The Steelers will keep those with the most versatility and upside.
Heres Who I Think Gets Cut:

  • Nic Williams: He has the ideal length and size for a 3-4 DE, but an injury robbed him of a vital season of development that he needed. There is a chance we sign him to the practice squad, but is there a point? Maybe I am being unfair to the guy.
  • Hebron Fangupo: He has been lurking in our depth chart for a while now and I think its time to move on to higher upside people. Simply pushed out because there is so much competition this year.
  • Daniel McCullers: He is such a large man that I hope he can turn into something great. I would consider him a guy we want on our practice squad. We would risk him getting stolen from our PS though.

Inside Linebackers:

Spot Locked Down:

  • Lawrence Timmons: No one has logged more defensive snaps for us over the past few season than Timmons. He is an extremely athletic ILB and he seems to be all over the field. Is often the unsung hero of our defense. Didn't have the best 2013 campaign, but who did on our defense? The improvement of the DL should help him return to his former glory.
  • Ryan Shazier: 2014 NFL draft 1st round pick. He is freakishly athletic and has size and combine stats reminiscent of Troy Polamalu. Carnell Lakes joked about him converting to a safety if Keith Butler didn't want him. He is that athletic. Doesn't have to start right away, but I would expect him to get the job early on in the season. Provides an exciting playmaking element to our defense and he allows Troy Polamalu to return to his safety position instead of flexing up to a pseudo ILB.

Fighting for a Spot:

  • Vince Williams: Started most of last year as a rookie and was decent against the run. He struggled in passing downs though and forced Polamalu to help at ILB. Hasn't shown much to prove he can be a 3 down line backer that this passing league needs. I would expect him be on the roster as a run stuffer this year.
  • Sean Spence: Everyone is rooting for this guy if just for his inspirational story. He showed some real potential in his rookie preseason, but had a catastrophic knee injury that looked like it would very likely end his career before it started. Well he is back... but is he the same player he was? I hope so! He is another very athletic ILB that can go sideline to sideline and excel in pass coverage. If we have Timmons Shazier and Spence in on sub packages we could have a real matchup problem for offenses. I am going to make the call and say that Spence will surprise us all and show why we chose him in the 3rd round. He will make the roster.
  • Terence Garvin: Most people know the last-year-UDFA as the guy who completely destroyed the Bengal's punter. He made the team against the odds of being a UDFA and was good on special teams. We even used him in some sub packages. He follows the trend of athletic ILB that we have going. The ILB position is one that is expected to heavily contribute on special teams if they are not getting playing time. Again, I don't know how many ILB we typically carry, but it is unlikely we keep all of these players. Maybe since they provide so many options for sub packages and special teams we take 1 more than usual.
  • Zumwalt and Moats also play OLB and I think they were signed/drafted to mostly fill the OLB position.


Cornerbacks:

From What it sounds like the Steelers are pretty confident in 3rd year, former UDFA Antwon Blake. Besides a few words in a few interviews from different Steelers coaches, I know nothing. That is a little unsettling in a CB driven league, but we would have drafted a CB earlier if we felt it was a do or die situation. We have confidence in our players and I have confidence in our front office.
Players Cut:

  • Isaiah Green: I don't know all that much about the guy besides reading a few articles here and there I don't think there is room anymore for him if we plan on keeping and developing Shaquille

Safeties:

I think we have room for all of them. Golden is a special teams ace and Thomas is the heir apparent to Polamalu. Allen provides good depth and Mike Mitchell and Polamalu will start. Mitchell could be the single most important piece of the puzzle that was added this offseason that could propel our defense to the next level. Allowing Polamalu to roam and have an athletic safety (Mitchell) play single deep would allow us to get back to our old ways.

Outside Linebackers:

Starters:

  • Jarvis Jones- Getting stronger and learning his position more. Struggled as a rookie, but should improve dramatically.
  • Jason Worilds- Transition tagged and expected to carry our sack totals. Can he keep up his performance from just 1 half of 1 season? I hope.

The Rest:

  • Howard Jones: Very high ceiling DII UDFA signee. Practice squad bound
  • Jordan Zumwalt: A tenacious athlete with a never ending motor. He will be a special teams ace and fan favorite in this years camp.
  • Arthur Moats: Signed during free agency. He will be carried due to his experience in a young unit and due to his versatility and ability to play ILB or OLB
  • Chris Carter: Will be one of those bubble players that gets activated and deactivated throughout the season. If people get injured he will be around, but I don't see much else use for him.


Look back tomorrow for the breakdown of the offense.


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