Nose tackle Casey Hampton is fast becoming not only one of the best players at his position in the league, but one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
The 6-1, 320-pound Hampton is the key to the Steelers' run
defense and, heading into his third season in the league, is only
getting better. Of course the shelf life for players at his
demanding position is not a long one, so the Steelers had better
get all they can out of Hampton now. Grade B
Defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen has seen better days and at
32, is on the downside of his career. After a strong 2001 season,
von Oelhoffen struggled at times in 2002 and was not a factor
rushing the passer at all. Even though he's very popular with his
teammates, the Steelers could decide to part ways with von
Oelhoffen during training camp. Grade C-
On the other side, Aaron Smith remains a solid force, even
though he saw his sack total fall from a career-high 8 in 2001 to
5.5 in 2002. Smith is as good as the Steelers have had in years
against the run from the defensive end position and at 6-5, 300
pounds, is the prototypical 3-4 end. Grade B
In his second season, end Rodney Bailey showed more
consistency than he had as a rookie in 2001. Bailey mainly
rotated with von Oelhoffen and also played some rush end in the
team's dime defense. He matched Smith with 5.5 sacks, tying
for the team lead for defensive linemen and his emergence
could force von Oelhoffen to the bench. He just needs to be more
consistent. Grade C
Backup nose tackle Kendrick Clancy was a restricted free agent
during the offseason and did not receive any other offers. If
Bailey pushes von Oelhoffen to the bench, the Steelers could
see Clancy as expendable. The former third-round draft pick has
never lived up to the team's expectations and is a little small to
be a 3-4 nose tackle. He may be better suited to be a 4-3 tackle.
Entering his second season, Brett Keisel is being counted on to
make more of an impact for the Steelers this season. A
seventh-round draft pick, Keisel didn't see much playing time in
the base defense last season, but made quite a mark on special
teams after being inserted into that unit halfway through the
season. The 6-5, 270-pound Keisel still needs to add some
weight, but his special teams play will make him tough to move
off this squad. Grade D
Jabari Issa was signed by the team earlier this week as another
big body to throw into the mix. At 6-5, 300 pounds, the former
Arizona Cardinals player has what the team looks for in its ends,
but it remains to be seen if he can pick up the team's scheme in
time to make the club. Grade Incomplete
Defensive tackle/end Chris Hoke entered training camp a year
ago with a legitimate shot to beat out Clancy as the team's
backup nose tackle because of his ability to play end also. But
Hoke was unable to beat out Clancy. Hoke will have a tough time
making this year's club. Grade D-
David Upchurch, Roy Attieh and Dan Rumishek are nothing
more than camp bodies at this point. Grade Incomplete.
Final analysis: More production from the line is a must this
season if the Steelers are going to go anywhere. Hampton and
Smith are pretty good, but can get better. Bailey taking over the
other end spot this season would be huge.
Overall position grade C
Grading The Players - Defensive Line
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