NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

Top 5 Pittsburgh Steelers Players to Watch-Defense

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Pittsburgh Steelers Top 5 Defensive Players to Watch

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

As the Pittsburgh Steelers start to move into the meat of the NFL off-season, one of the most exciting, and frankly unnerving parts of it is looking at who will be starting in 2013. For the Steelers this is of particular interest, because last season the defense was very inconsistent and while there were some individual efforts, the unit as a whole was a disappointment.

So, looking ahead to 2013 and trying to break down just who is going to be starting, there are questions. Will defensive tackle Casey Hampton be a part of this unit? If cornerback Keenan Lewis leaves via free agency, who will take his spot? What does this team have to do to improve it’s pass rush? And will this team be able to field a healthy group of safeties? The depth on this team is not outstanding, so going off just the current roster makes putting this list together difficult. Some of these positions will need to be addressed in the NFL draft.

With these questions, we have to look at the 5 players on the Steelers roster who didn’t have a great impact on the team in 2012, but are looking like they could be the next stars of the defensive side of the football. It’s going to take a group effort and a tremendous individual effort by some newcomers if this team wants to be competitive in the AFC North.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on twitter @nfldraftboard.

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5-Any safety on the roster

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

If any safety on the Steelers roster wants to step up and play big, I'm all for it. Last season Troy Polamalu struggled to stay on the field, and I fear his time with this team as an effective player are coming to an end. Fellow safety Ryan Clark had an inspired season, and while he should be able to continue to play well, he is not the future. Is there a player already on this roster like Damon Cromartie-Smith or Robert Golden ready to take that next step and move up the depth chart past the mediocre backups on the roster now? These are questions that once answered will go a long way toward fixing this defense.

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4-Jason Worilds, outside linebacker

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When the Steelers drafted linebacker Jason Worilds in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL draft, I said it was 2 rounds too soon. And now as he enters his third season he's running out of time to prove me wrong. Last season the outside linebackers for the Steelers were well below average when it came to rushing the passer. So with injuries, age and contracts starting to catch up to this group it's time for Worilds to put up or shut up. He's going to see significant snaps this season, and really needs to make the most of them.

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3-Steve McLendon, defensive tackle

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

I think most Steelers fans thought that 2012 would be the debut of defensive tackle Steve McLendon at nose tackle for the Steelers as a full time starter. In 2011 he played very well in a fill in role, and with Casey Hampton's age and possible contract snags, 2012 was to be McLendon's year. But instead Hampton came back and was able to play well enough to put McLendon back into a backup role. If McLendon is going to crack the starting lineup full time, this may be his last chance to do it.

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2-Cortez Allen, cornerback

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback might be the top position of concern for the upcoming season. Cornerback Ike Taylor is showing his age, and fellow cornerback Keenan Lewis potentially headed off to chase a big contract elsewhere, Cortez Allen could be thrust into not only a starting role, but being asked to cover the other team's best receiver on a game in and game out basis. He is not an elite athlete, and more like a CB2 on most teams, he might not be ready for prime time just yet.

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1-Ziggy Hood, defensive end

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SPORTS

Defensive end Ziggy Hood gets the top spot on this list because he's a starter now, so it's time to start to play like one. I could have just as easily listed defensive end Cameron Heyward here but I honestly think there is no hope for him. Hood on the other hand I think still has the potential to salvage being drafted into the wrong defensive scheme a round too early, and become a productive, albeit not spectacular, starter. This is his last shot or the Steelers are going to have to move on from the Hood experiment.