The sky is falling! Bud Dupree is on Injured Reserve — possibly for the entire season. Javon Hargrave is banged up. James Harrison is 38 years-old. Cameron Heyward is nursing an ankle injury. Jarvis Jones is...probably not going to be the next Joey Porter. The secondary is a work in progress. The puzzle that comes together to help create a great pass rush is suddenly shy a few pieces, and Steelers fans everywhere are feeling just a touch of anxiety headed into Week one.
Some of you may recall one of my first articles the spring, Three Bold Predictions regarding the Steelers’ defense. Looking back, that seems like an eternity ago, and in a way it was. I won’t ask anyone to go back and read it again. The gist of it is that I believed the defense would be greatly improved, but that each unit’s improvement would help the next line of defense improve as well. It all started with the pass rush. I really believed that Javon Hargrave would be starting week one and have an immediate impact. I watched every piece of film I could find on the kid and read all the hype from coaches and scouts, and I bought in. My prediction was met with some cautious optimism from our very knowledgeable fan base. There are a lot of readers on BTSC that know their X’s and O’s and defensive formations in particular, far better than I.
Fast forward to this week. The Steelers’ season opener is days away. Javon Hargrave was named the starter, and I admit I felt some pride in my prediction, but in the same breath the young man was reported to have a knee (or is it a quad?) injury and the severity of said injury is still a bit of an unknown, other than being labeled as day-to-day.
Throughout the summer reports came out of camp of Bud Dupree not practicing because of a sports hernia, which he just underwent surgery for. I believe that once healthy, Dupree will take that next step and be a solid, if not great, edge rusher for the Steelers. He has another full offseason under the tutelage of Joey Porter and Keith Butler and he is definitely a gifted athlete. I had visions of both Hargrave and Dupree garnering respect of offensive coordinators around the league and requiring double teams to keep them off opposing quarterbacks. This would give Jarvis Jones a bit of freedom to win some one-on-one match-ups and wreak havoc opposite Dupree.
But, of course, my plans for league domination have faltered. What once looked like a very promising pass rush has been bitten quite hard by the injury bug. Taking nothing away from our two healthy defensive lineman, this is not what I was expecting. Stephon Tuitt looked dominating in his own right in limited snaps this preseason and looks to make yet another step towards being a real headache for offensive lineman for years to come. Daniel “shade tree” McCullers is a mountain of a man and has demonstrated a readiness and the skills to take on a larger role in this defense. This film room article by my cohorts here at BTSC, Nathaniel Bodnar and Mike Frazer show that quite well. But we’re limping into week one on one leg and a broken training wheel.
I’m normally a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so I’ll attempt to put a positive spin on this. As of the moment I write this, James Harrison is still a beast, and he, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats are all healthy. Keith Butler is a creative defensive coordinator and will put the best squad and scheme on the field he can with the talent he has and the type of pressure he wants to put on the opposing offense. I have no doubt those young men will perform admirably in the face of adversity, because as we all know too well...Next Man Up! Butler can get creative with a healthy Ryan Shazier, and Moats is a solid contributor. Vince Williams will look to show he was worth keeping and extending his contract. Timmons is one of the most underrated middle linebackers in the league and still gets the job done. Tomlin is a great motivator. The Steelers will get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
But it doesn’t feel the same. I was dreaming of mayhem and havoc from everywhere on this defensive front seven, and if these injuries to some key components are not just tweaks, I fear the hopes of a fearsome pass rush are not going to come to fruition...at least not in the short term.
The sky is falling!
Maybe Jack Lambert has something left in the tank....