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Examining the real holes in the Steelers’ defensive roster

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Time to take a realistic look at the real holes in the Steelers roster. Today we focus on the defense.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

For the regulars at this little Pittsburgh Steelers slice of the universe, they know I have been doing a Steelers Team Needs article, and update my list based on where the team seems to be focusing their attention leading up to the draft, and with free agency decisions which have been made.

The discussion in the comment section of these articles has been great, but what I can’t get over is how many people believe certain needs are more important than others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I respect that, but I thought it was time to take a realistic look at the positions on the roster and whether the team has a hole in the roster or not.

Rather than writing a 2,500 word article for the entire team, I decided to break it up between offense, defense and special teams. Today we tackle the defense, so let’s look at where the team has holes to fill through free agency and/or the NFL Draft at each position. Reminder to readers not every position will have holes to fill.

Defensive Line

When you diagnose the Steelers’ defensive line, you have some big names with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt being the bookends in the team’s 3-4 base defense. Javon Hargrave anchors the nose tackle position, but what about the depth? L.T. Walton and Tyson Alualu were pleasant surprises, but many fans want another Casey Hampton-like nose tackle to help solidify the team’s run defense. However, I am not sure this is what the sub package focused Keith Butler defense needs. The team is set for the starters, but I would imagine depth could be added throughout the NFL Draft process.

Verdict: Depth could be added, but no glaring holes to be filled.

Inside Linebacker

Ryan Shazier was supposed to be ‘the man’ for the Steelers’ defense, and until that Monday night game in Cincinnati, he was just that for the Pittsburgh defense. Fast, athletic and intelligent made him a freak of nature on the football field. Replacing him won’t be an easy task, and his absence has left a gigantic hole at the inside linebacker position. The signing of Jon Bostic certainly helps provide a band-aid, but the hole remains heading into the draft.

Verdict: Gigantic hole present.

Outside Linebacker

While inside linebacker is a no-brainer, outside linebacker might be more difficult to diagnose. T.J. Watt has the look of the outside linebacker of the future for the black-and-gold, but outside of Watt the team lacks anything resembling consistency. Bud Dupree hasn’t come into his own, yet, and only Anthony Chickillo and Keion Adams remain on the team to add depth. The Steelers haven’t decided on Dupree’s 5th year option, but either way I see this position as a need heading into the draft. Should they spend a Round 1 pick on a pass rusher? No, but a Day 2 pick isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Verdict: Hole present which should be filled with a versatile linebacker/defensive end in the draft.

Safety

After releasing Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, it left only Jordan Dangerfield, J.J. Wilcox and Sean Davis as safeties with NFL experience on the roster. That was until they signed Morgan Burnett. Burnett fills a very big need for the Steelers, but doesn’t close the door on the position throughout the offseason. In fact, Safety should be one of the highest positions on the team’s draft board, and Burnett would be a great player to act as a bridge for a young player coming in and learning the system. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert said they aren’t sure what role Burnett will play within the team’s defense, but if he is going to be their every down strong safety, it means Davis will have to move to the free safety position.

Verdict: Another gaping hole which could, and should, be filled through the draft.

Cornerback

Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, Coty Sensabaugh and Brian Allen make up the team’s current depth chart at cornerback. Most would look at this and suggest this is a solid group capable of improving the team’s pass defense into 2018, and beyond, but is it really as good as we think? Haden isn’t getting younger, and has a hefty price tag coming next season. The verdict is still out on Burns and Sutton, and there is no guarantee both Sensabaugh and Allen will be on the roster when Week 1 of the 2018 regular season rolls around. While 2018 might not be a huge need for a cornerback, the team should be looking to add depth at the position.

Verdict: No huge hole, but depth necessary to prepare for the future.