The names Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are commonalities among Pittsburgh Steelers fans, but even the most tried and true fans should realize these two giants need to have some players behind them to give them a break or two.
In 2016, the lack of depth was apparent when Heyward was lost due to a torn pectoral muscle for the remainder of the season. The team tried any number of players to fill his role: Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews and L.T. Walton all through their hand in the pile.
However, throughout the trials of 2016, there were some bright spots which emerged.
The development of Hargrave was a huge positive for the Steelers. The rookie from South Carolina State looks to be not just the nose tackle of the future, but also the versatile pass rushing defensive lineman the team has been searching for. He may have a lower half built like Casey Hampton, but his pass rushing moves are far superior than “Big Snack”, in his day.
Next, was the maturation of L.T. Walton. Walton was the player who eventually became the defensive end opposite Tuitt down the stretch, and proved, despite being a 6th round draft pick from Central Michigan, he is more than capable of contributing in a variety of ways.
Walton’s versatility has grown over the last calendar year, and he is considered the backup nose tackle, over Daniel McCullers, and might be a very key cog in the defense in 2017.
This boils down to the ultimate point along the defensive line, and that is not having to play Tuitt and Heyward 90-percent of the snaps on a regular basis. Yes, you want your best players on the field as much as possible, but how effective are they when they are only going at 80-percent due to fatigue?
This season, more than any in the past three seasons, the team has some quality depth along the line. Looking at the aforementioned Walton, while adding Tyson Alualu in free agency, and possibly McCullers, the defensive front of Tuitt, Hargrave and Heyward suddenly could get a jolt of rejuvenation this season.
Health is the key to success with the Steelers, and their defensive line is certainly no exception. Some say the defense goes as the line goes, in regards to pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run, and with their depth in line this defense could see a major upgrade in 2017.
Heyward took the time to talk about this, as well as welcoming his newest child to the world, for Steelers.com. Check out the video below: