Run D Taking Body Blows

I'm not going to start crying about the Steelers picking Le'Veon Bell in the second round, I promise ...

... But let me give you my thoughts on who I really wanted leading up to the drafting of the new running back.

I had inside linebacker Arthur Brown ranked at the top of my Friday night wish list.

And I had Eddie Lacy ranked at the top of my Friday night running backs wish list.

And I had several wide receivers still left high on my board when the Steelers drafted Bell.

I like Bell. Don't get me wrong. After the first round I had him ranked 12th overall going into the second night, the second RB behind Lacy (who, it turns out, was flagged by the Steelers for a medical issue).

But the guy I really wanted, deep down in my heart, was a guy by the name of Margus Hunt.

The Cincinnati Bengals got him instead, and they got a monster.

Hunt is 26 years old, and that's certainly a drawback to come into the league overaged. But he's 6 feet 8, 277 pounds with long, record-setting, discus-champion arms and the speed to cover 40 yards in 4.6 seconds.

The former track-and-field superstar ran that 4.6 at the combine with a 34½-inch vertical jump (higher than A.J. Green's) and he pushed up the 225-pound bar 38 times.

OK, so those are the underwear stats. But in the last game he played he looked like the greatest 6-foot-8 defensive end since Doug Atkins was a Monster of the Midway in the 1960s.

No, I wasn't fooled by skill level of the freshman offensive tackle Hunt was abusing that night. But I still saw Hunt as having the potential to become a rich man's Aaron Smith in the Pittsburgh Steelers' new-age 3-4 defense.

Not that they needed a defensive end. Not that high in the draft anyway. But the reason I was hoping the Steelers would reel in this giant is because I am beginning to worry about the slimming down of the team's once-proud run defense.

The drafting of 245-pound outside linebacker Jarvis Jones to replace the 255-pound brick outhouse named James Harrison only furthered this concern after the apparent loss of nose tackle Casey Hampton earlier in the month.

The Steelers signed the lighter and more agile Steve McLendon to a three-year contract that pretty much sealed Big Snack's departure. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the Steelers had lost Smith the previous year.

So that's Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and James Harrison, all run-stoppers deluxe, all gone.

And while James Farrior may not have been as thick and stout as a Levon Kirkland, he could also stop the run, and he of course is gone, too, and, really, how long is Larry Foote going to play and who will replace him at the buck?

Since Dick LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh as defensive coordinator in 2004, the Steelers have allowed the fewest rushing yards, the fewest rushing touchdowns, and the fewest runs of 10+ yards in the NFL. And it set up the rest of the defensive success, which most believe set up two Super Bowl championships.

The nucleus of that precious run defense has been replaced by more pass-conscious defenders. Yeah, sure, it's a pass-happy NFL these days, and perhaps that's the reasoning behind the skinny-ification of the Steelers' front seven, but it still makes me nervous. It still made me want to draft Margus the Giant in the second round so that DL coach John Mitchell could teach him how to become Aaron Smith.

Instead, the Bengals took Margus Hunt, and they'll put him between their 6-6 and 6-5 defensive ends and next to superstar tackle Geno Atkins.

The Steelers showed with their second-round pick that they still believe in winning via the run game. They drafted a back they list at 244 pounds one round after taking their new 245-pound weak-side defensive edge setter.

"H-u-u-u-u-g-e man," new Steelers edge-setter Jarvis Jones said of new Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. "When you're built like that and can move like that, you've got a bright future."

Yes, it probably is a bright future for the Steelers' running game. But it's the run defense – the precious and most likely taken-for-granted run defense – that's beginning to make me nervous.

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