Pittsburgh Steelers: Early expectations for the defense

Last week, we looked at the early expectations of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. This week, we’ll look at the other side of the ball.

The Steelers’ defense will need to see major improvements heading into this crucial 2014 season. After a down 2013 season, the defense has made necessary changes to get younger and faster, two characteristics they desperately needed.

Ryan Shazier, the team’s first overall draft pick this year is already being used with the first team defense during OTAs and there’s no reason to believe this guy won’t play an important role all season long. He brings youth and speed to the table, speed being one of the main reasons the Steelers chose him first overall.

Along with Shazier, the defense added secondary help in Mike Mitchell, a former Carolina Panther. Mitchell put on a solid performance in Carolina and should be of great use for a Steelers’ secondary that allowed far too many “splash plays” last season. The secondary parted ways with Ryan Clark and Mitchell will be asked to replace him.Ike Taylor (Usable)

Even though there’s new faces, familiar faces are still around for at least another season. Cornerback Ike Taylor will be back along with Troy Polamalu, both men are getting up there in football terms but should have enough steam to be productive this season.

Polamalu will be fun to watch this season. Last year, the safety was turned linebacker on several occasions. Polamalu’s unorthodox style of play has allowed him to penetrate the line of scrimmage and using him close to line has become a useful tool in Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Polamalu has lost a step or two and he might not be as speedy as he once was, taking him from the secondary isn’t a bad move and if he can find success up front, more power to him.

To continue the trend of up front pressure, the Steelers catered their draft to that very aspect. Taking Shazier and defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in the second round solidified that theory.

Tuitt is another draft pick that will probably get the start, if not, he’ll see a lot of action. Tuitt is big, but lean. If he’s able to power through lines, he looks to be a quick shot to a quarterback. The Steelers want to get back to pressuring quarterbacks and stuffing the run and Tuitt will give them that needed help.

Other players like Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons and Jason Worilds will all have to step their game up. Jones’ rookie season wasn’t all it needed to be. He must find improvement this season, he’s a major factor for this defense. There’s also high expectations for Worilds who the Steelers could’ve potentially lost this offseason. After releasing LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers are confident in Worilds ability to be a quality guy this season. He has yet to sign a long-term deal and he might not ever, but for at least this season he’ll be someone the team will rely on for up front pressure.

There’s a lot of promise in this year’s defense but there’s also a lot of dependability on younger guys. If they aren’t up to the task then this defense could suffer another horrific season. The cards are in the hands of the future of this defense and the expectation remains high.