Something is awfully familiar about this 2016 offseason. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported this week that the Steelers biggest challenge this upcoming season is returning the defense to "elite status." Where have we heard that before? This time last year, the Steelers were facing a year of rebuilding after the retirement of several key defensive players, including cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu.
To fortify the defense during the 2015 offseason, fans hoped the Steelers would draft a cornerback in the first round of the draft. Instead, the team opted to draft linebacker Bud Dupree, a talented athlete many had predicted would be acquired much earlier in the first round.
This year, many mock drafts have the Steelers drafting a cornerback in the first round. If the team does not pick a cornerback, some have identified defensive tackle as a position of need. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the prime of his career and the offensive line as effective as ever under the leadership of position coach Mike Munchak, the tables have turned for the Steelers. The offense is now the backbone of the Steelers squad, and the defense is more of a liability.
Despite the need for more depth at tackle and much more depth in the secondary, the Steelers defense did put up some impressive statistics in 2015. The Steelers were third in the NFL in sacks and fifth in rushing defense. Further investments in the front seven and defensive backs is necessary to improve the dismal pass defense, however.
The Steelers have some work to do this offseason. Rehabilitating the defense is not a short-term project. With fourth-round pick Doran Grant and second-round pick Senquez Golson, both cornerbacks, the Steelers may already have found some of the young talent they need to rebuild the secondary.
It remains to be seen how the Steelers will use their first-round pick. One thing is nearly certain, however: the defense will likely continue to be a priority for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers for years to come.