Two days ago, Steelers Chronicle brought you the Pittsburgh Steelers projected offensive starters, and to keep the theme going, we’re going to take a look at the other side of the ball tonight. You know, the part of the team that everyone thinks about first when the team is mentioned, even in passing.
Defensive End #99 Brett Keisel
Keisel is the prototypical 3-4 defensive lineman, he does his job, and goes home. He won’t receive accolades (although he has been to the Pro Bowl once) and he won’t generally be seen on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays (although he’s done that once as well), but the thing about him is that he has a motor that just doesn’t stop. After being selected in the seventh round of the 2002 NFL Draft, he stepped into a starting position in 2006 and has started every game in which he’s played since. He has missed games the past three years due to injuries, but that’s to be expected when players get older and their bodies aren’t in the same condition that they were at age 21. Barring a phenomenal pre-season performance by rookie Cameron Heyward and former first round pick Ziggy Hood, Keisel will retain his starting spot in 2011.
Nose Tackle #98 Casey Hampton
Lovingly referred to on Steelers Chronicle as Mount Hampton, he remains one of the best at his position, despite being in his mid-thirties at a physically grueling position. He, like the other Steelers defensive linemen are the unsung heroes of the defense, as it all starts with them. He’s a five time Pro Bowler who has been the starter since his rookie year. The Steelers will have to replace him within the next few years, and it’s going to be a tough void to fill.
Defensive End #91 Aaron Smith
Like Keisel, Smith has been to only a single Pro Bowl, though most would agree that his importance to one of the best teams of the past decade would demand more than a single nod in that regard. His age has seemingly caught up to him, in the form of nagging injuries to his shoulder, which has cost him all but 11 games over the past two seasons. Smith is a vital cog to the Steelers defense, and, should he be able to stay on the field will look to get back to his old form in 2011.
Outside Linebacker #92 James Harrison
Harrison got off to a slow start to his career, but once the momentum built up, the undrafted linebacker from Kent State hasn’t stopped moving. Earning four trips to the Pro Bowl, along with two First Team All Pro Selections and a Defensive Player of The Year Award he has accumulated double digit sacks in each of the past three seasons, including 16 three years ago. He’s had multiple back surgeries, but by all accounts seems to be doing well on the road to recovery.
Inside Linebacker #51 James Farrior
The Ultimate Farrior has started all 140 games that he has been healthy for since coming to Pittsburgh in 2002, while earning two trips to the Pro Bowl and one First Team All Pro selection. To add to that, he’s also became a fan favorite in his time with the Steelers. He’s getting older, but still has some gas left in the tank. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense, and has helped groom more than a few players into what they are today.
Inside Linebacker #94 Lawrence Timmons
Timmons is a good inside linebacker, with the potential to be a great outside linebacker, should the opening ever truly arise in Pittsburgh. He has the speed to cover running backs and tight ends, with the strength to take on ball carriers, with the agility and move set to rush the quarterback very well for an inside linebacker. Timmons is the future of the Steelers linebacking corps, and is in no danger of losing his job anytime soon.
Like his bookend, Harrison, Woodley has put up very good numbers in the sack department over the past three seasons, surpassing double digits every year. He keeps putting on weight, and as long as it doesn’t sacrifice too much speed, it can only help him get past offensive tackles, who have learned to expect him coming hard from the edge.
Corner Back #24 Ike Taylor
Taylor is the Steelers number one priority at this point, getting him signed as soon as the lockout is lifted is absolutely vital to the team’s success in 2011. He has remained the Steelers most consistent corner over the years, and while he’s not going to make the highlight reel because of his inability to come down with the ball, he is a very solid cover corner, with the ability to take on the number one receiver of virtually any team. He’s not expected to take a ‘hometown’ discount, but will command and deserve market value.
Cornerback #20 Bryant McFadden
McFadden is the best of the remaining corners on the roster, with the rookies being an unknown value at this point, and with the others showing gaping holes in their games. That’s not to say that McFadden is a terrible corner, which he’s not, he is just more suited to a free safety position at this point in his career. The best facet of his game is his tackling, which would make him ideal to replace Ryan Clark.
Free Safety #25 Ryan Clark
Clark is mainly known for his hard hitting abilities, but with the new rule changes in the NFL, those tactics aren’t going to prove useful, unless you think that 15 yard penalties are useful. Clark is a good teammate, and has overcome a lot to become the Steelers starter, but he’s nearing the end of his career in the black and gold.
Strong Safety #43 Troy Polamalu
The reigning Defensive Player of The Year has had some injury issues the past few years, and without the re-signing of Ike Taylor will no longer be able to play his roamer style of safety play, as he’ll be too busy giving help over the top in coverage. He’s about average as far as missed tackles go for a safety, but his leadership and instincts all but make up for that. Add to that the fact that when a play needs to be made, there’s a 90% chance that he’s going to be the one to make it, and you can see why he’s commonly regarded as the best safety in football.