The agent for Anthony 'Booger' McFarland said the private workout for his client on Tuesday went well. Though many teams had sent reps to view it, the Steelers were not one of them. When asked if the Steelers were still interested in McFarland's services in 2008, agent Karl Bernard could only say 'I don't know'.
Allow me to use that tidbit to segway into a few questions for the group about the defensive line. But before I do so, let me first say that I have been bombarded by Seahawks fans here in Seattle about my affinity for the Steelers. Last night, at an event for digital media folks here in Seattle, I was introduced to a number of big-wigs who asked me what I did. Of course, in addition to the other endeavors I'm involved in, I was eager to mention my website devoted to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was forthright and candid about my history with the site and my love for the team, not shying away one iota from it, but it was interesting in several instances, engaging in that conversation with a few local bigshots who clearly cared about the 'Hawks. I suppose we'll see if their resentment from the Super Bowl carries over into their decision to employ me. I'll keep y'all posted :)
On to the questions...
1) With McFarland seemingly out of the mix for now, who do you see as the most likely candidate to contribute behind the 'Big 3' of Keisel, Hampton and Smith? Eason, Kirschke, Hoke, or one of the UDFA rookie acquisitions?
My take: I won't laugh at you if you make the case for Kirschke, Eason or Hoke, but at this point in all three of their careers, it's pretty clear what you're going to get. From Hoke, solid play, but little pass rush. From Kirschke, meh, nothing special, particularly along the line (he was once extremely valuable as a special teams ace, but not so much anymore); and from Eason - well, he's one heckuva OTA brawler. For the record, I'm less down on Eason as most, but I'm more than willing to realize that he's not good enough to be a viable replacement on a defense as solid as the Steelers'. I'll leave it at that for now and let you guys make a case for the remaining options out there, or for one of those three.
2) We all saw what a difference the New York Giants outstanding defensive line did against the Patriots and throughout the entire 2007 playoffs. Can the Steelers realistically expect to make some noise in the 2008 regular season and (hopefully) playoffs with such a thin defensive line?
My take: I'm personally not at all worried about Big Snack Hampton staying healthy and dominating this coming year. Sure, he may be over 30 years of age, but he's still a force in the middle and next to impossible to run against up the shoot. Keisel has proven himself to be extremely durable. Aaron Smith, of course, is the X factor. If he's healthy and at top-form, we're awfully tough up front. Without him, it's a crapshoot. Regardless of whether or not they're healthy, I don't see any Justin Tuck's on our squad. Translation: I don't see any versatile guys who can both stop the run and find different ways to attack the QB - be it with a bull-rush or sheer speed. This could be a problem. What do you think?
3) Can LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison make up for some of the deficiencies along the line?
My take: I'm not sure. I'd like to hear from you guys how and why some dominant play by our outside backers in the 3-4 can compensate for less than spectacular play by the front 3. Of course, it's perfectly reasonable to think that our front 3 will be great if there's no injuries to them, but in the event that there is, how much of a difference can two outstanding OLBs make in this scheme? We saw what Harrison could do as a disrupter last year, but when opposing offenses realized that Clark Haggans didn't really need to be accounted for, Harrison's production dropped off significantly. With Woodley (presumably) ready to start and produce, might the two of them be enough to offset any deficiencies we have in the trenches?
4) The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 2007 ranked #13 in sacks with 36. Will we have more or fewer in 2008? By how many either way, and who will lead the team in that department? For the record, the top two defenses in terms of sacks were the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Rounding out the top 5 were Dallas, Seattle, and San Diego. Any theme there?
My take: I think we will surpass 2007's total, but perhaps not by much. Let me say real quick that I think LaMarr Woodley is being burdened with ENORMOUS expectations, both here on this site, and by the national media. Woodley is all of a sudden everybody's trendy pick to have 10+ sacks and make the Pro-Bowl. Is he capable? Absolutely. Would it be a disappointment if he had 7 sacks, 75 tackles and played 14-16 games? Not in my mind. Just saying. Don't allow all this hype to skew what we expect of this young man. Anyway, I'd be pleased if we surpassed our 2007 total, but more importantly, I hope the distribution of our sack totals is more evenly spread out than it was last year. I'll have to dig up the numbers again, but if I recall correctly, a disproportionate number of our sacks came early on in the season, while we failed to get after the opposing QB come November and December. That's got to change in 2008. If I had to pick a leader for this coming year I'll go with Harrison. I think Woodley will do his thing, but based on all the hype surrounding Woodley, it wouldn't surprise me if he got more attention from defensive coordinators than Silverback, which could in turn lead to him being lined up in abundant 1-on-1 situations while LaMarr garnered double teams. We'll see. What do you think?