With the long-term signing of Cameron Heyward, the Steelers are setting the foundation of the defense of the future. With Heyward under contract for a few more years, the Steelers will now have Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers, and Heyward on the payroll through 2017.
McCullers has a lot to prove, but will have the buffer of Steve McLendon for at least one more year. If he can become a force in the middle, then the Steelers have their line.
With the speed and talent that the Steelers have been adding at linebacker, a solidified defensive line can have a serious impact on the defense. In the days of Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, and Aaron Smith linebackers were running free and making plays. The defense hasn’t really been the same since that trio split.
Heyward is the gem of the current group, and the motor of the Steelers’ defense. Down the stretch last year Tuitt was putting excellent play on tape. He is a high motor player just like Heyward–hopefully it’s infectious. McCullers is in a “prove it” year, not because it is a contract year for him, but because it is a contract year for McLendon.
Should McCullers prove to be a starting caliber tackle in the NFL, then the Steelers might not feel the need to re-sign McLendon after this season. However, if McCullers is outplayed, then he’ll be competing with McClendon for another contract term.
One of the biggest deficiencies in 2014 was the Steelers’ secondary. One of the best ways to mask a weakness in the secondary is to make the offense one-dimensional and attack the quarterback. In a 3-4 front the best way to do that is to have your three down lineman stop the run and occupy double teams to keep linebackers in attack mode.
The secondary still has a lot to prove, but the Steelers are aware of the importance of their front three, and are addressing that by keeping Heyward under contract and trying to build a new era defensive line.
With just a few weeks left until the team’s first exhibition game, the effectiveness of this defensive front will soon be on display.
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