The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line is an aging one, but it should start to get younger very soon.
Brett Keisel will be 35 and Casey Hampton will be 36 at the beginning of next season. But while Keisel will probably find himself back into the starting lineup in 2013, Hampton likely won’t be re-signed and will be replaced by 27-year old Steve McLendon.
That brings me to the other end spot, currently manned by Ziggy Hood, but going into next season, should Cam Heyward be first on the depth chart?
Other than Keisel, the Steelers front three could be lacking in experience next season. McLendon got only 139 snaps in 2012, while Hampton played 503. Do the Steelers really know if McLendon is ready to see 65-70 percent of the snaps next season?
You would like to think yes, but the problem is you just don’t know for sure.
The situation is similar at the other end spot where Hood received more than three times as many snaps (833) as Heyward (267), but you can make the case that Heyward was the more productive player and should be the starter entering next season.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson, Hood was, by far, the league‘s worst-rated pass-rushing defensive end, based on Pro Football Focus‘ every-down grading,
That alone makes you wonder why Hood continues to get a bulk of the playing time, especially when you consider their stats.
Hood had three sacks and three quarterback hurries; Heyward had 1.5 sacks and five hurries. Hood has been in the NFL for four seasons, yet still hasn‘t forced a single fumble.
Teams attack Hood at will when running the football as well, which was a problem this season at times.
Hood was a 2009 first-round pick, who will be playing for a contract.
Heyward was a 2011 first-round pick who will be playing to prove he belongs.
I don’t really care about the motivation, I am more worried about production.
Right now Heyward seems like the guy that the Steelers could get more from and giving him the opportunity to earn the starting job is something that should be seriously considered next season.