Yesterday I assesed the play of the offense thus far in the preseason. Today we'll look at how the defense has fared.
Many believed the departure of Kimo von Oelhoffen would hurt the Steelers in the trenches. From the sound of it, most of us would disagree. He's 35 years old and his best days are long gone. Aksed to replace him has been Brett Keisel, who has had a monster camp, bowling over just about everybody who's tried to block him during drills. Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton have looked strong and healthy this preseason and I credit the coaches for keeping them out of harm's way throughout the entire camp and preseason schedule. I believe Hampton is the best in the business at clogging up the middle and taking on multiple blockers so that the LBs behind him can make plays. The guy's a total monster. Smith and Keisel especially provide speed on the outside. This is going to be a wonderful defense, and it starts with the play of these three gentlemen.
Man do we have a lot of depth at the LB position. Clark Haggans, James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Joey Porter will be the starters, but the talent doesn't stop with those four. Andre Frazier and James Harrison have had wonderful camps, and Arnold Harrison hasn't looked too bad himself. Clint Kriewaldt and Rian Wallace will provide some extra depth as well. There may not be any super-star All-Pros in this group (even though people think Joey Porter is), but as a group, it's well-rounded, versatile and deep.
Before the start of camp, people were talking about how we were going to replace Chris Hope. A few short months later, we've got three guys deserving of the job. Tyrone Carter and free-agent acquisition Ryan Clark were the two candidates competing for the job heading into camp. Both have had their moments this preseason, and both are healthy, so expect to see plenty of both, regardless of who's named the starter. What's been pleasantly surprising has been the emergence of 3rd round draft pick, Anthony Smith from Syracuse. He leads the team in tackles, has 2 INTs, and made one bone-crushing hit on punt coverage. Ricardo Colclough's struggles on punt-returns have been well documented on this blog, but he's done a surprisingly good job in coverage, especially in zone. He's going to be a just-fine backup to Ike Taylor. Nothing needs to be said about Troy Polamalu. I'd take him over any FS in the NFL without thinking twice about it. Deshea Townsend has worked through several minor injuries this preseason and looks ready to go. Bryant McFadden has been somewhat of a disappointment however. Good thing we have Troy roaming around, because I think if there's a side that will be picked on this year, it will be the right side where Townsend and McFadden play. Veteran FS Mike Logan has also had a nice camp and his play on special teams is going to be even more critical now that special teams specialist Chidi Iwuoma went down last night with an injury. This is a very good, if not great unit. Our cornerbacks are not the best in the business in pass coverage, but they're above average at helping out in the running game, especially Ike Taylor. If Townsend finds a way to have a big year, our secondary should help compliment our outstanding front seven to make up one of the truly elite defenses in the NFL.