Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers Need A Nose Tackle To Optimize 3-4 Defensive Scheme

Oct 13, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon (90) attempts to chase down New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers won the game 19-6. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have many needs to address this offseason, none more important than nose tackle.

The void left by longtime all-pro Casey Hampton has not been filled. Steve McLendon tried to take the spot, but he’s not a 3-4 nose tackle. He lacks strength to fit the system.

This does not mean McLendon should be cut, as he would be an excellent defensive end, his natural position. But fact is, returning Dick LeBeau‘s defense to the best in the NFL requires getting a 3-4 nose tackle.

This is easier said than done. Great nose tackles are very hard to find as they are the quintessential boom-or-bust position. Even if you do spend a first- or second-round pick on a nose tackle, more than half the time they are a bust.

The upcoming free-agent class won’t produce many nose tackles that could replace McLendon. The ones that could will be in high demand and a bidding war will break out.

The Steelers have been notoriously conservative in free agency and may have one or two splashes in them. Those will probably come at the safety and offensive line positions, not at nose tackle.

The Steelers have a big problem that cannot be ignored: they need to find someone to clog the middle of the defensive line. Nose tackle is the most important part of a 3-4 defense and it sickens me that it’s come to the point where Pittsburgh relied on a man in his late 30s that could retire at any moment and they didn’t get a competent backup.

Well, to be fair that’s not entirely true. General manager Kevin Colbert did draft nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.

Unfortunately, he was terrible. He was cut during his rookie season and brought back later. After that, Ta’amu didn’t make the 53-man roster in 2013 and went to Arizona to be guided under former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

Realizing your heir apparent to the great Hampton is a complete bust definitely hurts, but where the Steelers went wrong was not getting a replacement.

They expected McLendon, an oversized 3-4 defensive end, to fill the void just because he was big. That doesn’t always work; you need a true nose tackle to run the scheme to its potential, and that’s just Football 101. McLendon isn’t a scrub by any means, but he isn’t a nose tackle.

This offseason, the Steelers have many pressing needs, but the biggest is nose tackle and it can’t be ignored any longer. In terms of who that NT could be, the truth is that no one knows. Some names have been thrown out such as Louis Nix of Notre Dame and Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech, but they have some red flags that need addressing.

I’ll have a detailed report on both Ellis and Nix later, as my gut is telling me one of them will be selected by the Steelers.

Ideally, Colbert addresses this problem and the Steelers can continue taking steps to becoming a powerhouse like they once were.

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What do you think? Should the Steelers pony up and sign a nose tackle, or should they draft one? Should they continue turning oversized defensive ends into nose tackles? Whatever your opinion may be, I want to hear it. Comment on the post and we can discuss.

Tags: Casey Hampton NFL Free Agency Pittsburgh Steelers Steve McLendon

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