Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
The Steelers made an effort to get younger, faster and stronger on the defensive side of the football this offseason, and the future does look bright, especially at defensive end.
Pittsburgh has an abundance of untapped potential at the position with players such as Stephon Tuitt, Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams and Josh Mauro. All four have to develop into starters, or at least viable backups.
As talented as this group is, they need time to develop. Defensive line coach John Mitchell makes it a point to teach his defensive ends the “Steeler way” of playing football. That typically means one or two years of developmental time.
Unlike previous years, the Steelers do not have the luxury to wait. There is no proven veteran at left defensive end, meaning one of these young players will be thrust into the starting lineup. If they aren’t ready, then Cam Thomas will have to step in as a stopgap.
According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, the Steelers signed Thomas to provide depth at nose tackle and defensive end. By inserting him into the starting lineup, they will not be able to use him as a versatile depth player.
Pittsburgh did explore the option of signing a veteran defensive end in free agency. Soon after they lost Al Woods and Ziggy Hood, Alex Carrington was brought in for a visit, per Scott Brown of ESPN.com. However, he did not sign, leaving the Steelers without an experienced option on the roster.
The logical solution would have been to re-sign Brett Keisel to a one-year deal. He could have been used as a temporary starter until Tuitt was ready and then as a backup. His presence would have benefited an otherwise inexperienced group of players.
Though they failed to make this move earlier in the offseason, it still could happen as training camp approaches. In fact, Keisel may be prepared for a return. According to Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, “As of mini-camp, Keisel still hadn’t cleaned out his locker. Everything was still there, just as he had left it at season's end.”
The Steelers may not re-sign Keisel, but if they do, their defensive line will be in better position, and they would have also regained a leader in the locker room.