Traditionally speaking the defensive line of a 3-4 base defense essentially served as space eaters so that the back eight could come in and fill and make plays. They have been equated almost to offensive guards on defense. It wasn’t their job to makes lots of tackles, and certainly not to sack the quarterback. But the NFL has changed and with that change the role of the 3-4 defensive front, in particular the defensive ends has evolved. They are being asked to do much more including win one on ones on the outside and rush the passer; a role traditionally left to the rush outside linebacker.
This all pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers because back in 2011 they drafted Cameron Heyward from Ohio State University in the first round of the NFL draft. This was after drafting defensive end Ziggy Hood in the first round of the 2009 draft. It wasn’t until his third season that Hood was able to crack the starting lineup full time and 2012 proved to be solid, but not spectacular. I do still think Hood has the potential to be much better, and 2013 will be big for him as well.
But opposite of Hood is veteran Brett Keisel, who at 34 years old and as great as he’s been; the Steelers have to be considering the future at that spot. And the future should be Heyward. He came into the league with a significant amount of fanfare as a pass rusher as a junior. His ability to come off the edge for a player his size was impressive. Many analysts projected that with his size Heyward might be better suited to move inside. But the Steelers drafted him with the intention of getting that pass rush presence off the edge.
Personally I’m not sure if Heyward is as talented as Hood and if he isn’t, than the defensive line is going to be in trouble. What I hope is that Heyward is ready to step up and be a big time starter and add some pass rush to that front 3. I’ve been critical of Heyward since he was selected, I would like nothing more than for him to prove me wrong this season.