December 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (99) on the field before playing the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Warren Sapp says Pittsburgh Steelers defense is still old and slow

Seems Warren Sapp is once again looking for a little attention.

On the NFL Network this week, Sapp repeated his 2011 claim that the current Steelers defense is too old and slow. The former perennial All-Pro defensive lineman said, “seven of the 11 starters are 28 years or older, and that’s around the time, in this league, they go to questioning, you know, ‘Where’s his legs? Should we look for the backup?’”

The issue with Sapp’s brash words is the Steelers did find younger legs to back up their seasoned veterans, and those old veterans continue to outplay the “youngins” on the bench, as the team was first in the NFL in yards allowed per game in 2012.

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Newly elected to the NFL Hall of Fame member Warren Sapp (left) gets a hug from Adam Shafter before Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

Sapp started off by targeting the elder of the defense, Brett Keisel. Keisel turns 35 at the start of the season. His backup is 2011 first-round selection Cameron Heyward. It’s hard to see what they have in Heyward with Keisel still getting it done. Keisel netted 4.5 sacks in 2012, the second most in his 12-year career.

That would’ve been a good year for the former defensive tackle Sapp. In his 12th season, Sapp grabbed 10 more sacks to add to his career totals. Not bad for an old player over the age of 28.

The Steelers did choose youth over experience at nose tackle this offseason. Out with the 35-year-old Casey Hampton, and in with 27-year-old Steve McClendon. McClendon sat behind “Big Snack” Hampton at the starter’s table since 2010. While Casey won the line battles with sheer massiveness, McClendon is the quickest nose tackle the Steelers have ever had suited up. He has shown the ability to pressure quarterbacks and is determined to be a three-down lineman. He deserves the opportunity. Playing just a third of the snaps in 2013, McClendon still recorded two sacks, one forced fumble and two QB hurries.

Sapp saved his final critique for the Steelers secondary. Like the rest of the defense, the secondary was highly ranked in 2012. They were No. 1 in the league against the pass, allowing just 185 yards per game. Still, Sapp charges teams like the Patriots and Broncos have the blueprint to beat the Steelers: attack their aging leader, strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Despite the criticism, Polamalu looked back to form at the close of 2012. The nagging calf injury from 2011 is finally a thing of the past – just like the talk of his career being over. Polamalu is due for a surprisingly super season in 2013.

Free safety Ryan Clark  had an unsung MVP season, leading the Steelers’ most improved unit. With injuries to the teeth of the defense  (James Harrison, Lamar Woodley and Polamalu), Clark’s big hits and barks from the secondary set the tone. He recorded the most tackles of his 11-year career: 102 (74 solo), plus two interceptions.

Durability hasn’t been as much of an issue for Clark; however, at age 33, he isn’t any faster. In truth, I am more concerned with the legs of Ryan Clark than Polamalu. The Steelers did add safety Shamarko Thomas in the draft. Thomas has 4.3 speed and the toughness to cover tight ends. Secondary coach Carnell Lake should have Thomas ready to replace Clark in coverage when necessary.

They might be old and slow to Sapp, but the Steelers defense has the roster to prove him wrong once again

Tags: Brett Keisel Cameron Heyward Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu

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