Talk to any fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and they can point to one main reason why they don't like former NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp. "Old, slow, it's over." That sentence, which was uttered years ago, still strikes a chord inside the most devout Steelers fan. However, as the team prepares for the 2015 season, the sentence can't be further from the truth.
When Sapp made his declaration the team was watching an aging James Farrior not being able to track down ball carriers, Ryan Clark not blowing assignments but not being able to run with wide receivers and an overall lack of play making ability among the defensive 11.
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There have been bright spots along the way, especially in Pro Bowl inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, but the Steelers defense will be re-tooled, and with the re-tooling process underway, they are losing experience but gaining youth and speed to help make plays from a variety of positions.
In a recent interview with WAVY in Hampton Roads, VA, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked about the youth on the defensive side of the football.
"Young and defense are two things that I like," Tomlin said. "That's not a change that you fear. We've got some guys that are working really hard and are really talented. Unproven, yes, but that's why we play the game. I've been excited about watching them work and I look forward to watching them grow and grow together."
The Steelers fans should match the excitement of the head coach of their favorite team when it comes to the defense the Steelers plan on deploying in 2015. Some of the young talent Tomlin speaks of will be in the form of players like Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Shamarko Thomas, Daniel McCullers, Antwon Blake, Bud Dupree and Senquez Golson.
"Old and slow" will no longer be the moniker used when describing the Steelers defense, but instead it should be "Young and fast". You sacrifice experience by playing so many younger players, but at the same time gain the athleticism needed to make plays.
The Steelers have been well below the standard, in terms of producing turnovers, the past three seasons. The Steelers created 21 turnovers in 2014, 20 in 2013 and 20 in 2012. In other words, even with more experienced players on the roster, it didn't essentially equate to creating big plays on the defensive side of the ball.
With a younger roster there will be mistakes made on defense, there is no doubt about such a simple fact; however, there will also be big plays made by players who were drafted for their play-making ability. In fact, for those fans worrying about mistakes being made by younger players who might be thrust into the spotlight in 2015, there were plenty of mistakes made in 2014 by vested veterans.
With Keith Butler at the helm of the team's newly minted defense, there will be growing pains in a lot of different ways. Players getting accustomed to Butler and vice versa, the team having to gel with new players in new positions and the overall maturation of individuals learning how to play the game at the highest of levels in the NFL. Nonetheless, as Tomlin said, "young and defense are two things that I like" and it might be time Steelers fans jump on that bandwagon as the new "young and fast" defense prepares to start training camp in under two weeks.