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Steelers see increase in sub packages on defense, look for versatile defensive lineman

It's not a secret the Steelers were stretched out horizontally often last season, forcing nose tackle Steve McLendon off the field. That, in turn, is part of the reason the team's yards per rush allowed increased dramatically.

Jonathan Daniel

Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette asked the question of the offseason in Monday's edition: How will the Steelers stop the run in their nickel defense?

He pointed out a 10 percent increase in the use of sub packages from the team's base defense from 2012 to 2013, and the decreased usage of the team's nose tackle position, mainly Steve McLendon.

While it isn't likely to see the team address the nose tackle position with the 15th pick, and it may seem, in the eyes of many draft analysts, the defensive line position and those who will likely be on the board at 15 may not be worth the pick, it wouldn't be surprising to see the team take one anyway.

We broke down Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in January, thinking along these same lines. If the Steelers really want to address what appears to be a personnel shortage from their base package to subs, a player like Tuitt can do that.

He probably wouldn't be able to handle a full regimen of snaps his rookie season but he can be worked into essentially the same kind of role the Steelers are hoping Cam Thomas can provide this season - outside in base, inside in subs, a hybrid defensive lineman the Steelers haven't had previously.

Tuitt has the strength to take on interior blockers at the point of attack and the athleticism and quickness to play off the edge in passing situations. But the key to it is Heyward, a player the Steelers will have do the same thing this year like he did last year - outside in base, inside in subs.

Heyward is a great interior pass rusher, that's the area of his game that has improved the most since he was drafted. Tuitt can be seen as a similar kind of player, but he's a bit bigger, and might be able to handle the interior duties alongside Heyward in the team's big nickel package - four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

Along with that, the Steelers have looked to find hybrid cornerback/safety players, who can cover the slot like a cornerback while providing a safety's level of run support. Look for the team to make a decision on a cornerback in this draft based on his ability to cover outside as well as inside and still be able to support the run.

It's all a product of the same issue. If teams are going to spread the Steelers out, they need players who can adapt to that. This draft is likely to address that general issue.