Steelers Resign Clifton Geathers to Fill Out Thin Defensive End Unit


The Steelers resigned DE Clifton Geathers on Wednesday according to Darin Gantt of NBC Sports. Geathers has been signed to 8 NFL teams in his 5 year career and is going into his second season with the Steelers. It was an important though unspectacular move to round out the defensive end depth chart that prior to the signing had only 3 players.

Geathers was drafted in 2010 out of South Carolina by the Cleveland Browns in the 6th round but was cut before the season began. The Dolphins picked him up off waivers but waived him a few months later. Geathers then spent exactly ten days on the Seattle Seahawks before being cut. The next day the Dallas Cowboys signed him.

This was just his first season.

He spent two years with the Cowboys where he played 6 games. They released him, signed him back, and then put him on waivers where he would sign to the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. He was quickly promoted to the active roster due to injuries and during this time recorded his only career sack.

After the season he was traded to the Eagles for the 2013 season where he started his first game. Then he spent the beginning of 2014 in Washington before being cut.

After being released by the Redskins he signed with his eighth team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers signed him last year after Brett Keisel became injured. He did not however play in any games.

Geathers has been resigned to a one year deal. He stands at 6’8″ and weighs 325 pounds. He has the right size. He may also have right amount of fight in him having gotten in a literal fight with Maurkice Pouncey last year during a practice.

Whatever he was doing during practice last year must have been enough for the Steelers to sign him. At 27 he should be in the prime of his career as conventional wisdom has it and in his second year with the Steelers he should have some familiarity with the team.

The signing is not the high or even mid profile free agent pick up Steelers fans were hoping for at the beginning of the season and have mostly accepted will not be happening this year. It is however filling an important need.

Need is used often a specific way when referring to NFL teams. Typically it is used in the sense that in order to win a team most likely needs to do this or that. It doesn’t mean they literally need to, have to, in order to play the game at all. It is most often used to suggest things that a team should do in order to win. The Steelers defense is perhaps at least one foot in that need territory on every level of the defense.

A lot has been made, and rightfully so, of the lack of depth at outside linebacker and cornerback. The Steelers have three OLBs and three CBs at this point. Even without injuries you still need more players at these positions just to run some packages as well as provide able bodies for special teams play.

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Perhaps with all the focus on these positions we may have overlooked the fact that our defensive line is fairly thin. It’s also easy to overlook because that’s the level of the defense whose starters provide the most certainty.

Cam Heyward continued his growth to a very good defensive end, Steve McLendon showed that when healthy he could plug holes after his offseason filling out his frame a bit, and Stephon Tuitt flashed some playmaking ability while getting reps at the end of last season. The defensive line helped the Steelers run defense ascend to decent and even respectable over the course of last season.

The problem lies behind them. McLendon only has one back up at nose tackle in the experiment we’re all crossing our fingers for in Daniel McCullers. McNoseTackle is at least set with those two but most teams would like to have another DT, at least on the practice squad. At both DE positions Cam Thomas is the only backup. He got solid playing time last year but mostly performed poorly.

Forget how you feel about Cam Thomas, neither he nor anyone else can be the only backup for two positions. It’s just tempting fate. On a Steelers team that has had to shuffle around offensive linemen out of their natural positions and resign James Harrison last year due to injuries, not to mention had to sign Ben Tate after realizing it had no backup running back before entering the playoffs last year, playing it safe is probably always a smart play.

On a Steelers defense that is lack players this is an important move. The Steelers only have 8 picks in the draft. Only half of which might reasonably expected to make solid contributions in their first year, though likely less.

The Steelers look to address their most glaring issues, outside linebacker and cornerback, through the draft but with so many other positions on defense to address like safety or defensive tackle, or tight end on offense, the draft might not provide enough bodies even to fill all the gaps.

This was a move to fill out a roster. Clifton being a live human person certainly does that. It’s tough to know what to expect from Clifton. He hasn’t had a lot of playing time and has bounced around quite a bit in his short career.

He’s proven capable when given the chance however and has shown enough during practices and drills to cause 8 NFL teams to want him on the team in some capacity. He showed enough last year for the Steelers to want to bring him back.

This provides some padding to a thin defense. Maybe he could challenge Cam Thomas for the primary back up spot. It’s not a game changer though. But to have a great defense you need to have a defense. Being two deep across the defensive line brings us a step closer to that goal of having a defense. From there we can figure out what type of defense it is.

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