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Pittsburgh’s defense may have ranked as the league’s top unit in 2012, but that statistical achievement hides a unit that is weak and aging fast at several key positions. There is no bigger opportunity to make changes than on this side of the ball.
Here’s a look at positions that need some immediate assistance.
Larry Foote, the team’s starter in 2012 and a longtime member of the roster, is a free agent. While his price tag won’t be high, as he wants to only play in Pittsburgh next year, that spot on the depth chart can be better filled by a younger player.
Sean Spence, whose rookie campaign ended when he was cut down by a knee injury late in the preseason, will get the first crack at replacing Foote as a starter opposite Lawrence Timmons. If he can cut it, he could be the future there.
If not, the Steelers almost always spend a draft choice or two at linebacker. They may need to move outside with that choice, however. James Harrison could be released to help get the team under the salary cap. If he is, general manager Kevin Colbert may elect to draft some help for projected starter Jason Worilds.
While the immediate need isn’t obvious, the Steelers need to start thinking ahead at the safety position. If Troy Polamalu’s injury-riddled 2012 season taught them anything, it was that they can no longer rely on one of their franchise favorites.
Opposite Polamalu, Ryan Clark is solid and steady. His age, however, will eventually become a factor. Clark plays with a ferocious style. While that’s needed, it will shorten his career in the end.
Florida’s Matt Elam is a potential first-round option for the Steelers. He would give them the player they need to replace Polamalu and would also instantly upgrade the depth at safety, where Ryan Mundy and Will Allen will likely be allowed to leave and where Robert Golden is no sure thing to develop.