This is part 9 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:
If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
Next up, we’re going to look at the Steelers defensive ends.
Brett Keisel was the most productive of the Steelers defensive linemen in 2011. He had one of the best seasons of his career in 2011.
He has become a fixture on a defense that is consistently among the best in the NFL. That says a lot about Keisel. Particularly since he was a 7th round draft choice, from a school that is not a football powerhouse.
But despite Keisel’s skills and dependability, he’ll be 34 years old next season. The Steelers are beginning to realize that keeping aging veteran players hinders the team’s ability to groom future stars. So it will be interesting to see how often the team substitutes Cameron Heyward in for Keisel next season.
When Aaron Smith went down with an injury in 2010, Ziggy Hood replaced him, and the defense actually became better. Based on that, I was certain that Ziggy would enter 2011 as the starter for the Steelers at the position. But instead, Aaron Smith resumed his role as starter.
But just like in 2010, Aaron Smith went down with an injury in 2011, and Ziggy Hood replaced him as the starter. And once again, the defense got better when Ziggy took over.
2011 was Ziggy’s best season, as he recorded personal bests in just about every statistical category except sacks.
Ziggy will only be 25 years old next season, and he’s still learning how to play the position. So I think that the Steelers are set at left defensive end for a very long time.
By the way, there has been talk of playing Ziggy at nose tackle if Casey Hampton doesn’t recover from his injury quickly. I don’t want to see that happen. Ziggy is just finding his groove as a defensive end. He needs to stay there. In my opinion, the Steelers should draft a nose tackle, or find one in free agency. Ziggy Hood should only be used there in an emergency.
As mentioned earlier, Aaron Smith began 2011 as the starter, but he suffered a neck injury, and missed most of the season.
2011 was the 4th season in the past 5 years in which Aaron Smith missed significant time due to injuries.
Following the 2011 season, Smith decided to announce his retirement. He has been a role model as both a player, and as a citizen. He has been one of the most consistent players in Steelers history.
Thanks for the memories, Aaron. Steeler Nation loves you!
Cameron Heyward didn’t get a lot of playing time during his rookie season, but he looked good when he did get in the game. He even managed to get his first NFL sack.
The coaches are very high on Heyward. As mentioned above, I hope to see him substitute in for Brett Keisel more often this season. I think that it will give Heyward more experience, and it will keep Keisel fresher as he gets older.
Despite having two young players to man the position for the future, and a veteran starter, the Steelers still lack depth at defensive end. Al Woods spent most of 2011 on the Steelers’ practice squad, and he’ll be given a chance to make the team in 2012.
But the Steelers still need more depth at the position. Al Woods is unproven. And if Ziggy Hood has to spend some time at nose tackle, that will deplete the depth at defensive end even more.
I won’t be surprised if the Steelers draft a college defensive tackle in April’s NFL draft. They typically select college defensive tackles with the hope of converting them to 3-4 defensive ends.