Free Agent Focus: Defensive line

With February 29 and the start of free agency upon us, our series about the free agent market as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers concludes with its final installment.

Free Agent Focus:
Offensive line
Linebackers
Running Backs
Defensive Backs
Wide Receivers

Today: Defensive line

Most of the stars at this position have been locked up with franchise tags, but there are still some players available who could interest the Steelers, who are looking to add depth to their rotation.

Casey Hampton is still solid at nose tackle, though he needs to come to camp 10 to 20 pounds lighter next season than he did this year.

His backup, Chris Hoke is also solid and under contract.

The Steelers really missed end Aaron Smith's steady contributions down the stretch last season after he was lost for the final three games with a torn triceps. Smith, who also missed two games earlier in the year with a sprained knee, should be back and ready to go this season.

Veteran Travis Kirschke filled in for Smith – after Nick Eason failed at the job – and played well enough to get a new contract out of the team. But he's strictly backup material at this point.

On the other side, Brett Keisel started all 16 games, but wore down as the season wore on, particularly with Smith out. Keisel had to play every snap when Smith went down and wasn't nearly as effective as the coaches had hoped he'd be.

Eason is a free agent and won't be back, while Ryan McBean is going to have to take a major step forward to make this roster again this season.

On the free agent market, the Steelers won't be looking for stars, but players they feel line coach John Mitchell can work into his rotation.

New Orleans' Renaldo Wynn (6-3, 296) could be one such player. Though 33, Wynn can still rush the passer a bit – 3.5 sacks in 2007 – and is the kind of veteran backup the Steelers like to have around.

Seattle's Ellis Wyms played in Tampa Bay from 2001 through 2006, with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on that coaching staff for five of those seasons.

The 6-3, 290-pound, 28-year-old Wyms had just 11 tackles and two sacks as a backup with Seattle in 2007, but had 35 tackles and 5.5 sacks with Tampa in 2002, and 30 tackles and five sacks with the Bucs in 2006.

San Francisco's Marques Douglas was very effective working in the 49ers' 3-4 defense last season, recording 71 tackles and three sacks. The former Ravens end, who's now 31, may be tired of the losing after a few years on the West Coast. He had 72 tackles and 5.5 sacks for Baltimore in 2004.

Minnesota's Spencer Johnson played under Tomlin when he was defensive coordinator there in 2006. The 6-3, 286-pound Johnson had 24 tackles and three sacks for Vikings in 2007.

If the Steelers want to take on a bit of a reclamation project, they might take a look at Oakland's Tyler Brayton. The 6-6, 280-pound Brayton was highly regarded coming out of college, but the losing and constant coaching changes in Oakland appear to have sent him into something of a spiral.

He had just 11 tackles in 2007, then voided the final season of his rookie contract to get out of Oakland.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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