The Great 18: Unit Evaluation of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Neal Coolong will go over all 18 positional units on the Steelers and rank them in terms of priority this offseason.
Each player on Pittsburgh's roster in 2007 will be evaluated leading up to the start of the free agency period on March 3, based on the Steelers' need to address that position with a change at starter, a free-agent pickup or a draft choice.
12. Strong safety
Troy Polamalu, sixth season; Tyrone Carter, ninth season.
If we didn't need confirmation of anything from the Steelers in 2007, it was that SS Troy Polamalu is a fantastic player, and Tyrone Carter is not.
Nothing against Carter, the scrappiest player on the team, but clearly, down the stretch, the Steelers suffered without Polamalu (knee injuries hampered him throughout 2007). The Steelers tried Carter in Polamalu's spot, and they also put in free safety Anthony Smith on the strong side, with Carter moving to free.
Neither experiment worked particularly well. While it's basically impossible to improve on Polamalu as a player, the team might want to address a general lack of depth at the strong safety position. Polamalu is such a physical player, he is constantly the first defender to the ball. It's going to take its toll after a while. Maybe 2007 was the first injury-plagued season of his career. The Steelers would be wise to see if they can find a rookie to try to oust Carter from the primary backup job.
11. Nose tackle
Casey Hampton, eighth season; Chris Hoke, eighth season; Scott Paxson, third season.
Much like at strong safety, the Steelers were tested in terms of depth at nose tackle in 2007. Hampton is one of the game's best nose tackles, and the team has no current plans to change its base formation to a 4-3 alignment. But there's nothing to say they won't take a stud NT if one is available on the cheap.
The Steelers dime formation had Hampton on the sideline, with Hoke and DE Brett Keisel standing in front of the offensive line. Hampton isn't a significant part of the nickel set, either, clearly indicating the team is happy with Hoke's pass-rushing skills and wish to keep Hampton fresh to stop the run.
AFC champion New England is able to mix in a 4-3 look with the personnel it has up front. Will Pittsburgh want to mix in something like that? The Steelers certainly could, and while Hoke has been a solid player for the team, adding another lineman better suited for the under tackle position would be the place to start.
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