Snapshot: L.T. Walton

The Steelers' sixth-round pick hopes to complete another rebuilding job on the defensive line.

In the 10 seasons preceding the final Super Bowl appearance by the original Steel Curtain defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed a combined 3.52 yards per rushing attempt.

In the 10 seasons preceding their last Super Bowl appearance by the new millennium Steelers, the defense allowed a combined 3.60 yards per rushing attempt.

Apparently, the 3.5-3.6 range is what's to be expected of a defense that wins multiple championships.

In the last four seasons, or since they've won their last playoff game, the Steelers have allowed a combined 4.09 yards per carry, including last season's 4.36 that was the worst for the franchise since 1964.

It's unacceptable for those who've been spoiled by tradition, and John Mitchell is one of them.

"I was spoiled," said the Steelers' defensive line coach since 1994. "How often do you get a Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith, who play for you for 10 or more years?"

Well, twice, as mentioned above.

Keisel was released a couple of months ago and the second great Steelers defensive line is now just a memory.

"I think we are going to have that here again," Mitchell said. "We are still a little young. Cameron Heyward is going to be a heck of a football player. I think Stephon Tuitt’s best football is ahead of him. I think Steve McLendon is a guy that stayed in here, worked hard day in and day out. We cut him about four times. He had a never-say-never attitude. He wasn’t going to die. He felt like he could play on this level, and I’m happy for the guy. I think the same thing with Daniel McCullers. He was the guy right from Tennessee. He didn’t know what it would take to play on this level. He's been around good football players. He watched how Cam Heyward worked. It got contagious. He’s in great shape right now. He understands what we are going to do and he’s here. I’m excited about this football team. I’m excited about the defensive line."

Mitchell was in a talkative mood because he had just drafted his ninth lineman in the last seven drafts, this after a six-year stretch in which only four linemen were drafted.

Not all of the recent linemen have paid off, of course, but there are enough young linemen to cause Mitchell some excitement. The latest is L.T. Walton, the sixth-rounder out of Central Michigan.

"He’s a guy that stays on his feet, and that’s the most important thing for a defensive lineman," Mitchell said. "He has a good motor and runs to the ball. He is going to have to learn how to do some things a little bit better: use his hands, get off blocks and be a little more physical at the point of a tackle.

"When you can get a guy 6-5, 319 who can run and stay on his feet, that’s a big plus. Here we have had a lot of success with taking special defensive linemen in the later rounds."

Walton grew up in Clinton, Michigan, about 25 miles southwest of Detroit. He was an All-County baseball and football player, and as a 285-pound shortstop he hit .441 and .423 in two prep seasons as some called him the next Prince Fielder.

But Walton was a better fit on the football field, where he played tight end and defensive end.

"I love football," Walton said from rookie minicamp. "Football's what I want to do for the rest of my life. I love the sport. I love the physicality. There's nothing like football compared to any other sport."

Walton was about to walk on as an offensive lineman at Michigan State when running backs coach Dan Enos left MSU to become head coach at CMU. He asked Walton to come with him to become a defensive lineman on scholarship. It's what Walton wanted to hear.

"I love it," Walton said of playing defensive line. "I'm a get-after-it type of guy, a nasty defensive player."

You wouldn't know it to talk to the young man who graduated CMU with a 3.0 GPA in Sports Management.

"Well, you know, you've got to be able to turn it on and off," Walton said with a big smile.

Walton redshirted in 2010 and made one start in 2011, but in his last three seasons at CMU he started 31 games. Before his senior season he lost 20 pounds. Walton only had two sacks but he hurried the quarterback six other times and broke up two passes.

"I dropped the weight before my senior year for a position change," Walton said. "My defensive coordinator wanted me to play a little more outside, five and seven-technique. I felt a lot quicker, but that wasn't all about cutting the weight. A lot of it was having the knowledge of the game, knowing where to be. As a senior you're a leader and you've got to know those things. So it wasn't just the dieting and stuff that helped me, but knowledge of the game helped me play a lot faster as well."

Walton posted only average numbers at the Combine: 5.25 40, 25 bench reps, 27-inch vertical jump. But his game tape shows a solid sleeper prospect who can play 5-tech in the Steelers' base and then get after the passer a bit as a tackle in their 4-3 nickel.

At rookie camp with the Steelers last weekend, Walton played left defensive end.

"I love this organization," Walton said after the workout. "They do everything the right way around here. They want us to be great, just like their organization, so they expect nothing less of us."

With the recent draft picks finding their way as starters in what Mitchell hopes becomes another Steel Curtain incarnate, Walton will be a bit player. And that will be enough for Mitchell at this point.

"I’m really happy where we are," Mitchell said. "A lot of times guys say that you need sacks and all of that, but I’m not a big sack guy for this reason: If you don’t stop the run in the National Football League, you aren’t going to have the chance to get sacks. Good football teams are physical and play well at the point and stop the run. That’s what I tell my guys: When we stop the run, we’ve got enough in our arsenal to put pressure on the quarterback."

History has proven that to be true more than once.


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