Legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to part ways. A move which was destined to happen eventually has come to fruition. When the decision was made to part ways with LeBeau, the Steelers might have thrown a pebble into standing water, and are now forced to face with the ripples which accompany the decision.
One of those ripples will be the Steelers' defensive depth in some critical areas. Steelers fans know the names of the players who might have played their last game in black and gold uniforms. Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. All defensive legends in their own right, and all could possibly be seen as viable options moving into 2015.
However, when news broke of LeBeau's dismissal, it was Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who tweeted the following stating the Steelers were looking to 'go in a different direction'.
Dick LeBeau out as defensive coordinator. Says he and #Steelers have agreed to mutually part ways: "Time to go in a different direction."— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 10, 2015
That change of direction could be just what the doctor ordered, but in terms of the Steelers players who's careers might only hold one more season, it could have been the straw which broke the camel's back.
Players like Keisel and Harrison who returned to the team in 2014 came back with the thorough understanding of the team's defense. They knew the LeBeau 3-4 zone blitz scheme like the back of their hands, which made the transition back into the lineup seamless, but with LeBeau now gone, will a 'different direction' cause those players to think twice about their possible return?
A player like James Harrison who has always stood behind LeBeau through thick and thin, might find learning a new defense at his age to be too much to handle, and simply call it a career. Same could be said for a player like Polamalu.
With those players possible to not return based on who is hired as the new defensive coordinator, the Steelers' defensive depth could be in jeopardy, especially at outside linebacker. Harrison was the stop-gap who filled in for injured Jarvis Jones, but with Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats as free agents, the team is looking at Jones and a handful of unproven talent at the most important position in the 3-4 defense.
With that said, if the Steelers hire from within the organization with someone like Keith Butler, a player like Harrison might be willing to play one more season as Butler's ideals are very similar to LeBeau's. If they decide to bring in an external candidate with new ideas, philosophies and theories, the Steelers could be faced with some dire circumstances on the defensive side of the ball.
LeBeau's departure could put a dent in the Steelers' defensive depth, but depending on who they hire and how they handle free agency, it could certainly be a dent which is easily fixable.