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Steelers Training Camp 2017: Best/Worst Case scenarios for the Defense

Outlining the best and wort case scenarios for the Steelers defense in 2017.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Today we’re going to continue our series looking at the best case, and worst case, scenarios for each position group on the Steelers, focusing on the defensive side of the ball this time. You can find the offensive edition here. Once again, we’re going to mostly skip over injuries.

The Steelers’ defense, in contrast to the offense, is often named the biggest question mark on the team; however, the potential is truly there for the defense to take major strides in 2017. Without further ado, here is the Best and Worst-Case scenarios for the Steelers’ Defense.

Defensive Line

Projected Notable Players:

Cameron Heyward

Stephon Tuitt

Javon Hargrave

Daniel McCullers

L.T. Walton

Best Case: Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt both make the Pro Bowl. Hargrave builds on his first year, where he started 13 games, to become a stud clogging up the middle of the field. Walton and McCullers are trust worthy enough to play an optimal amount of snaps to keep the line fresh all season long. As a unit, the line is able to generate pressure on quarterbacks independent of the blitz.

Worst Case: Heyward and Tuitt put up impressive numbers on paper but are burned out at season’s end due to not having reliable backups to spell them. Hargrave’s draft profile, which warned he’d be a project requiring patience, proves true as he looks out of place and is pushed around in the middle of the field. McCullers is cut in camp in favor of Walton, who took reps with the first team at minicamp.


Projected Notable Players:

Ryan Shazier

T.J. Watt

James Harrison

Vince Williams

Bud Dupree

Anthony Chickillo

Arthur Moats

Tyler Matakevich

Best Case: Ryan Shazier puts his speed and physicality together consistently to terrorize offensive players like he did in the 2015 Wild Card win over the Bengals. He displays a nose for the ball like he did in 2017 and even if he doesn’t intercept the pass, he helps play a part in creating more turnovers. Dupree reaches a double-digit sack total in a full year and becomes a names name outside of Pittsburgh. James Harrison plays reduced snaps and pulls out between five and ten more sacks in his reduced role that keeps him fresh. He continues to be a scary man. TJ Watt is able to work into the rotation and perhaps start a game later in the year. He shows enough skill for the coaches to keep him on the field in high pressure situations. Vince Williams establishes himself as the starter at inside linebacker and shows early in the year the coaches were right to trust him. Williams also remains a key special teams contributor. The linebackers as a whole improve their run defense and tackling in the second level.

Worst Case: Shazier has an up and down season where he is noticeable some games, invisible the rest. His body betrays him and he’s forced to sit out multiple games. James Harrison, who got off to a slow start last year, finally has age catchup to him. He ends up riding the pine for most of the year and ends a promising career. TJ Watt isn’t able to contribute much as a rookie, which forces Arthur Moats to play more snaps on the outside than the team had envisioned. Williams looks lost playing a starter’s role on the inside, and the position is an issue all season for the Steelers. The linebackers fail to generate pressure and a questionable secondary is preyed upon by offensive coordinators.


Projected Notable Players:

Artie Burns

Ross Cockrell

Sean Davis

Mike Mitchell

Robert Golden

William Gay

Cameron Sutton

Senquez Golson/Coty Sensabaugh

Best Case: Burns and Cockrell hold down the outside spots all season long. Cockrell is able to hold on to a few interceptions which leads to some publicity and finally gets some of the recognition he deserves. Williams Gay provides a steady veteran poise and leadership while helping out in the slot and on the outside as needed. Gay provides Steelers’ fans with at least one more ridiculous pick six celebration. Davis and Mitchell punish any receiver that goes over the middle, and are reliable in coverage. Golson is finally healthy and gets a chance to display his ball hawking skills that made him a second-round pick.

Worst Case: Burns struggles to stop receivers in his sophomore year and the team is forced to turn to Gay again. Gay’s age catches up with him and his play slips. Davis is required to help at slot corner which forces Golden to see more time at safety than the coaches intend. Mitchell goes for highlight reel hits at the expense of solid coverage which leads to breakdowns in the secondary. The unit regresses towards its 2014 form instead of building on last year’s success.

The Steelers are beginning the season looking like the most serious contenders in the AFC to take out the Patriots before the Super Bowl. The potential for a seventh Lombardi trophy is there. Still, Steeler fans can’t be blamed for partaking in their favorite superstitions to ensure that the majority of the best-case scenarios above work out.