The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is in a state of flux. Cameron Heyward has been lost for the year, and filling such gigantic shoes will be a tough task to accomplish, and while fans are clamoring for change, they might just get their wish, in a way, in Week 11 when the Steelers travel to play the Cleveland Browns.
There isn’t a ridiculous amount of change which can occur on the defensive side of the ball. The cupboard is mighty bare at a lot of positions, but Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler have made one change public, the demotion of Jarvis Jones and the promotion of James Harrison as the starter at right outside linebacker, but it looks as if there might be another change on the horizon.
Rookie Sean Davis being inserted as the starter in lieu of Robert Golden.
After Thursday’s practice, Davis mentioned just how many reps he was getting with the starting defense, this coming after back-to-back weeks where his workload at safety increased.
When it came to practice reps, he had never seen that many with the starters. “Yeah, probably the most since I was starting,” Davis told Mark Kaboly of DKPittsburghSports, referring to earlier in the season.
“I am just trying to be a starter, man. I am just trying to be perfect out there. I don’t know the situation, but I expect to play. I just don’t know how we are going to handle (who the starter will be).”
The coaching staff might not give Davis the official tag of “starter” just yet, but snap totals are clear they want Davis on the field more as the second half of the season continues.
“He has got a lot of talent,” Keith Butler said Thursday of Davis when meeting with reporters. “He is still learning. We are trying to keep him in situations where we don’t ask too much of him in terms of the game mentally. We aren’t dumbing things down or anything like that. We do want give him a chance to be successful in what we ask him to do.”
Davis has been the target of fan angst the past few weeks, but he is showing strides in becoming a full-time NFL starter. This was highlighted in our own Film Room breakdown on Davis. It isn’t as if Davis doesn’t have his issues, he is a rookie after all, but his ceiling is tremendous.
With Davis possibly being the new starter at strong safety alongside Mike Mitchell, that won’t be the only change seen with the defense on Sunday. The team will likely welcome back Bud Dupree from the injured reserve list, and will finally get to see the second year player get after the quarterback.
After recording 4 sacks in 4 games as a rookie, Dupree was expected to be the team’s primary pass rusher from the left side in his sophomore season. A sports hernia, which required surgery before the start of the regular season, dampened expectations, and left the Steelers very light at the left outside linebacker position.
Is Dupree physically and mentally ready to return?
“I'm good.” Dupree told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I'm not behind in my conditioning level. That's the good thing. I've been keeping up with the plays and just staying in the classroom.”
Sounds like a player ready to make his 2016 debut, but Dupree, like all players, will leave that up to Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff.
“I mean … I hope,” Dupree said. “I'm with whatever, but it's on (the coaches). So I have to see how they feel.
“I'm good. It's just going to be on what the coaches say — and the training staff.”
So, the Steelers defense could look different on Sunday. James Harrison will see the brunt of the snaps from the right outside linebacker position, Sean Davis also is expected to see more snaps at safety and Bud Dupree’s return seems imminent.
Some might say it is similar to just putting lipstick on a pig, but the team is trying to make changes any way they can, in hopes of finding a spark. I guess it is better than sitting back, doing nothing and expecting a different result. Only time will tell if these changes amount to anything different for the black and gold Sunday, and beyond.