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An in-depth look at the Pittsburgh Steelers youth on the defensive side of the ball

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The Steelers are an offensive unit. Defence is therefore where a lot of attention is being spent - it's their weaker side of the ball. Thus, the team has been revitalizing their defense over the last few years. Here's a look at this young defense.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers spent five of their seven draft picks this year on the defense. And for good measure - the offense is pretty complete and is there clear strength. As we all know, the secondary is the defense's weakness, so it was unsurprising that Pittsburgh spent their first two draft picks on cornerback and safety. The Steelers are bolstering their defense and doing all they can to fight off father time.

This is not to say that the defense is bad, not by any measure. Last season the defense had 48 sacks (third best in the NFL), gave 91.2 yards per game against the run (fifth best in the NFL) and gave 19.9 points per game (11th best in the NFL). BUT, they came 30th in the NFL in pass defense, giving 271.9 yards per game. Obviously, this is a problem for the secondary, and so explaining why their first two draft picks went in that direction.

Looking at the defense as a unit, here is the respective ages, and various averages of those ages, for the 53-man roster that headed into the 2015 season:

Defensive line:
  • Steve McLendon - 29
  • Daniel McCullers - 22
  • Stephen Tuitt - 22
  • Cameron Heyward - 27
  • Cam Thomas - 28
  • L.T. Walton - 23
  • Average age on D-line: 25
Linebackers:
  • Anthony Chickillo - 22
  • Bud Dupree - 22
  • Terence Garvin -24
  • James Harrison - 37
  • Jarvis Jones - 25
  • Arthur Moats - 27
  • Ryan Shazier - 22
  • Sean Spence - 25
  • Lawrence Timmons - 29
  • Vince Williams - 25
  • Average age at linebacker: 26
Cornerback:
  • Cortez Allen - 26
  • Antwon Blake - 24
  • Brandon Boykin - 25
  • Ross Cockrell - 23
  • William Gay 30
  • Doran Grant- 22
  • Average age at cornerback: 25
Safety:
  • Mike Mitchell - 28
  • Shamarko Thomas - 24
  • Robert Golden - 24
  • Will Allen - 33
  • Ross Ventrone - 28
  • Average age at Safety: 27
Overall average age: 26

Now 26 isn't so bad. That, I would say, is a relatively good balance between experience and youth. Of course, these figures are skewed slightly by players being so much older than their peers -- William Gay and James Harrison in particular. Now here is BTSC's Christopher Carter's prediction for the 53-man roster heading into the coming season, written on May 16 (of which I think is a likely outcome) and their ages:

Defensive line:
  • Cameron Heyward - 27
  • Stephen Tuitt - 23
  • L.T. Walton - 24
  • Caushad Lyons - 23
  • Daniel McCullers - 23
  • Javon Hargrave - 23
  • Average age at D-line: 24
Linebacker:
  • Ryan Shazier - 23
  • Lawrence Timmons - 30
  • Vince Williams - 26
  • LJ Fort - 26
  • Bud Dupree - 23
  • Jarvis Jones - 26
  • James Harrison - 38
  • Arthur Moats - 28
  • Travis Feeney - 23
  • Average age at linebacker: 27
Cornerback:
  • William Gay - 31
  • Ross Cockrell - 24
  • Artie Burns - 21
  • Senquez Golson - 23
  • Doran Grant - 23
  • Average age at cornerback: 24
Safety:
  • Mike Mitchell - 29
  • Shamarko Thomas - 25
  • Sean Davis - 22
  • Robert Golden - 25
  • Ross Ventrone - 29
  • Average age at safety: 26
Overall average age: 25

That is a year younger across the team, and a year younger at every position except linebacker, which got older by one year. This shows that Pittsburgh is actively aiming to build a new defense. But are they any good? Here's what Arthur Moats said about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this week:
"During the spring those young guys made huge strides as far as understanding the scheme ... When we get to training camp they’ll go through their growing pains obviously. But they’re definitely going to help us out. It’s going to be critical. We’re going to call on them and they’re going to have to answer the bell. I feel like we have guys who are more than capable."
I feel that's pretty hopeful. These new guys have gone out of their way to learn their place in the scheme, and are going to actively contribute. We will see the likelihood of them contributing in any significant way soon being as camp has started and the preseason isn't that far away.

Altogether, I never felt like there was a whole lot missing from the Steelers defense. As the stats show, the only major concern was defending the pass. This was the main focus heading into the draft, and that was what the Steelers aimed to solve in their first two picks with cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis.

I also think that these issues are mostly time and age related -- the major flaws at safety occurred with the retirement of Troy Polamalu. Now, with William Gay and James Harrison having their NFL shelf lives dwindling, the Steelers are smart enough to bring in young players to revamp the defense and do something about it. The young defense is going to solve some problems for Pittsburgh, and hopefully become a driving force to Super Bowl 51.