At the start of this offseason, the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers looked pretty bleak. The organization faced problems with their salary cap, and lost a number of significant players due to free agency, leaving numerous positions needing to be addressed.
Fortunately, after a successful 2013 NFL Draft and signing a few free agents, the Steelers are now primed to reclaim their spot atop the AFC North. The team seems to be solid at just about every position.
On offense, their group of quarterbacks are much younger than they were last season, yet they still have a good amount of experience. The backfield added more versatility with the additions of rookie Le’Veon Bell and free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling. The passing game even looks to be okay despite tight end Heath Miller still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. Retaining wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and drafting rookie Markus Wheaton should take the place of the potential absence of Miller at the beginning of the regular season. Furthermore, the offensive line looks to be in tact.
Defensively, after losing James Harrison, the linebacker position is solid after drafting Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams. Even though the secondary loss three defensive backs to free agency, the Steelers added rookies Shamarko Thomas and Terry Hawthorne for some much-needed depth. Unfortunately, the same optimism can’t be seen for Pittsburgh’s defensive line.
The only sure thing on the Steelers’ defensive front is veteran defensive end Brett Keisel. Everyone else has a big question mark on their back. Defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are both first-round draft picks that still haven’t lived up to their top billing. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu is entering his second year in the league, and still is a work-in-progress.
This year’s seventh-round draft pick Nick Williams played defensive tackle in college, but will be playing defensive end in the pros. Williams will have to step up to the learning curve quickly in his transition from one position to another. His versatility could come in handy in the rotation of the defensive front.
As for starting nose tackle Steve McLendon, he seems to be the best defensive lineman next to Keisel. However, as much as McLendon has improved year after year, Casey Hampton has left some very big shoes to fill for McLendon.
The Steelers definitely have the tools to bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 season. However, the deciding factor in their potential turnaround could be whether or not the defensive line steps up.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google