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Dick LeBeau to answer critics in 2014

Dick LeBeau has been highly criticized the past few years as the Steelers' defense has been on the decline, but a renaissance could be on the horizon.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers defense was certainly not up to par with what the NFL has grown accustomed to when you think of hard nosed defenses. There were missed tackles, blown assignments and plenty of blame to go around the locker room on the defensive side of the ball.

Immediately, fans turned their angst towards Dick LeBeau. After all, the blame has to fall on someone's shoulders, doesn't it?  Fans were declaring LeBeau withered and washed up, all while planning his imminent retirement announcement. Well, that didn't happen.

Last season LeBeau wasn't playing poker with a full deck of cards. Carrying the dead weight of players like LaMarr Woodley, Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood and an aging Brett Keisel, LeBeau did what he could with what he had. This was the man that was the brains behind the great Steelers defense of the 2000s, so what changed?

Simple, he had two types of players. Aging and slow, or young and inexperienced. Put those two together and you get the 2013 Steelers' defense that ranked out of the top 10 for the first time in nearly a decade.

The organization saw the issue and answered the bell via free agency and the NFL Draft. If nothing more, LeBeau has finally been given some tools to his disposal, and not just stop gap players. No longer does he have to worry about veterans' egos like Woodley and Clark, but just players that are itching to play.

Mike Mitchell, Arthur Moats and Cam Thomas will help add to a defense that needs depth and holes filled, but it was in the draft where LeBeau got his weapons. Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt alone are young promising players the will certainly see their share of playing time as rookies.

LeBeau is back for at least another season, and with more weapons at his disposal, the Steelers defense could begin to climb the rankings to the perch they've sat atop in years past.