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Pittsburgh Steelers Pre Free Agency Draft Needs – Defense

February 25th, 2013 at 8:55 PM
By Mark Mihalko

Sunday, Steelers 101 covered the early list of needs on the offensive side if the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers, today the focus will shift to the defense. This was to coincide with prospects from that side of the ball taking the field in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine.

'Chargers @ Steelers' photo (c) 2012, Fido - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
As always with the prospect Olympics, not all players make a positive impact and it happened again today when Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o ran a sub par 4.82 40-yard dash. This is another setback for the Heisman Finalist, who was caught up in the fake girlfriend scandal and suffered through one of the worst games of his career in the BCS Championship game against Alabama in January.

The Steelers were definitely watching, as the team lacks depth at both linebacker positions and in the secondary. There is no doubt that they will be looking to fill holes in all of those areas in the April NFL Draft. However, determining the exact order is a challenge.

There is no doubt that they are in need of an explosive edge rusher. With the status of outside linebacker James Harrison up in the air, and little depth on the outside, this could be their most dire need. Yes, Jason Worilds has improved, but with the continued struggles of LaMarr Woodley to stay healthy, there is a giant void at the position. There have been reports coming out of the combine that the Steelers have been paying a lot of attention to BYU OLB/DE Ezekiel Ansah, who would potentially fit the bill. Unfortunately, after posting a 4.61 40-yard dash at 6-5 and 271 pounds, he is climbing up draft boards and could move out of their range.

Next to outside linebacker, the secondary may be their most pressing need on defense. At this point, fans could debate all day on which position and no one would be wrong. At cornerback, the Steelers could lose Keenan Lewis to free agency. If that happens, cornerback becomes a more important need than if he stays. There are some first round options at cornerback and they could pull the trigger early. Even if they pass in round one, they will likely address the position at some point.

Safety is an interesting position heading into the free agency period. Yes, they appear to be set with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, and promising rookie Robert Golden, but that is all they have on the roster with primary back ups Will Allen and Ryan Mundy both unrestricted free agents. Couple that with the fact that both Polamalu and Clark are aging and carry larger cap numbers, this could easily become more of a need than originally imagined. Reports from Indianapolis have linked the Steelers to Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, a prototypical safety prospect that could be available at their number 17 position. If they decide to pass on a safety at that point, there are some other safety prospects that may be available in round two that could make an impact.

Inside linebacker is another area of potential need, as the team is limited behind Lawrence Timmons. As covered in a previous article, the Steelers are negotiating with Larry Foote to return in 2013 to help fill the hole left by the preseason injury to Sean Spence. While this is a situation to monitor, it is unlikely that the Steelers look inside during round one.  

Depending on how the draft falls, the Steelers could look to build depth along their defensive line. While some pundits project this as a major need, with two first-round selections on board already, it would not be a wise investment to add a third. Yes, nose tackle Casey Hampton has likely played his last game for the team, Steve McClendon looks poised to step into that role and there is some depth already on the roster. That fact alone should keep them content with amount of holes up-and-down the roster at every other position.

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Tags: Casey Hampton, Ezekiel Ansah, Football, James Harrison, Jason Worilds, Kenny Vaccaro, Manti Te'o, NFL, NFL Combine, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Robert Golden, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu

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