The Steelers have too many quality interior defenders and not enough helmets to go around this year. Which player doesn’t make the final roster in 2022?
I’ve been doing some simple historic research, and I see a problem. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. The Steelers have too many interior defensive linemen and not enough hats to go around this year.
Looking at Pittsburgh’s depth chart archives at Ourlads.com, the Steelers historically keep just six interior defenders on their roster. The last time this trend was broken was exactly a decade ago. In 2012, Mike Tomlin’s defensive line was loaded with depth, so the team elected to keep seven interior defenders (this includes both 3-4 defensive ends and nose tackles): Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Al Woods, and Alameda Ta’amu.
Since then, Pittsburgh has never rostered more than six interior defenders on the team for a season. The only time a seventh player was promoted was in the event of an injury.
Doing some simple math, it’s clear to see that the Pittsburgh Steelers could have an odd man out on the defensive line right now. Their top interior defenders on their depth chart include Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and DeMarvin Leal. That’s seven defensive linemen.
This doesn’t even count players like Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis, and Henry Mondeaux who are all certainly not making the team barring multiple injuries prior to the start of the season.
The Steelers have a dilemma on their hands. Do they break the historic trend to keep a seventh defensive lineman? If not, who becomes the odd man out?
Who will be Steelers odd man out on the DL?
While I love the depth of the defensive line as much as any position on the team right now, it’s still hard to argue that this group was on par with the one that included Heyward, McLendon, and Woods as players coming off the bench in 2012. Though it’s possible the team could elect to keep an extra interior defender, history tells us it probably won’t happen.
If this proves to be the case, which quality defender gets the axe? This could come down to health. If a player like Tyson Alualu has more swelling in his knee or is nicked up ahead of the 2022 season, they could throw him on IR to begin the year so that they don’t have to make this challenging decision. Cam Heyward also recently went down with an injury in practice, though it is believed to be serious at this point.
However, assuming all of their interior defenders get back to full health and are able to participate in at least one of the final two preseason games, this decision could come down to cutting either Montravius Adams or Isaiahh Loudermilk.
This isn’t a scenario I was hoping to see. After Pittsburgh’s defensive line was depleted with injuries, I want every quality able-bodied man on the roster. Adams has been dealing with an ankle injury that could prove to play a factor, but he projects as the primary backup at nose tackle to Tyson Alualu.
Evaluating the list of names, I can’t see the Steelers cutting a player like Chris Wormley who was a quality starter last year, and Larry Ogunjobi was one of their biggest signings of the offseason. While DeMarvin Leal might not be able to carve out a big role in the rotation right away, the 21-year-old defender was their third-round pick, and the team certainly isn’t going to risk stashing him on the practice squad.
Because of this, it looks like either Adams or Isaiahh Loudermilk could be the odd man out. Loudermilk is the younger player who the Steelers did trade back into the 2021 draft to land him. They clearly like Loudermilk and I think he’s had a solid training camp, but he has been running primarily with the second and third-team defenses at Steelers training camp. Like Adams, he also suffered a recent injury that could prove to be a setback for him.
Meanwhile, Adams has bounced around the league a bit but played well for the Steelers down the stretch. The team didn’t spend mid-round draft capital on him, which in theory could make him more expendable. However, Adams is projected to be the only backup nose tackle on the roster, which could give him a competitive edge. On the other hand, the Steelers have three projected backup 3-4 defensive ends in Ogunjobi, Leal, and Loudermilk.
If all of these players are healthy and the team isn’t willing to devote an extra spot to an interior defender, perhaps the right move is to try to shop a player like Chris Wormley. The veteran defensive lineman is coming off a 7.0-sack season and he could potentially fetch a fifth-round pick in return. By doing this, the Steelers would be able to keep both Adams and Loudermilk who probably aren’t far behind Wormley in terms of ability.
No matter how you decide to slice it, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a difficult decision to make when it comes to the defensive line. This is a good situation to be in, but one significant contributor could be the odd man out this year if Mike Tomlin isn’t willing to break a historic trend to keep a seventh interior defender in 2022.