A review of Steelers' defensive snap counts

PITTSBURGH -- Four of the five Pittsburgh Steelers who logged over 1,000 snaps this season were defensive players, with strong safety Troy Polamalu (1,041) leading the team in playing time.

Joining the 11th-year veteran in playing over 1,000 snaps in 2013 were inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (1,034), free safety Ryan Clark (1,026) and cornerback Ike Taylor (1,010).

Here is a look at snap counts, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, on the defensive side of the ball:

-- The sheer number of snaps played by three of the four starters in the secondary shows why the Steelers have to target defensive backs in this year’s draft. Clark probably won’t be re-signed and Taylor and possibly even Polamalu may have to accept pay cuts to return in 2014. It’s hard to imagine Polamalu not coming back and the Steelers needing to replace both starting safeties next season given the lack of proven depth behind them. Rookie Shamarko Thomas played significant snaps as the third safety in the quarter defense until a high-ankle sprain sidelined the fourth-round draft pick. Thomas did not play a snap in the final seven games of the season, seeing action only on special teams. Will Allen supplanted Thomas and played so well that I think the Steelers re-sign the 10th-year veteran and let him compete to replace Clark or play in some sort of rotation.

-- Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley played just over half of the Steelers’ defensive snaps (555) and a nagging calf injury caused him to miss five games and limited him in several others. Woodley has had trouble staying on the field since signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011, and that is why something has to give with the seventh-year veteran. Woodley likely has to take a pay cut to return to the Steelers or the team could release him. Jason Worilds logged the most snaps (748) among outside linebackers, and he should be at the top of the list of their own free agents that the Steelers want to re-sign. Worilds, who can become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, is No. 22Insider on ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando’s list of “must-sign” free agents. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones played 612 snaps, second only to running back Le’Veon Bell (656) among Steelers’ rookies.

-- Nose tackle Steve McLendon played just 338 snaps, a number than can be attributed to a high-ankle sprain that caused him to miss two games as well the evolution of the NFL into a passing league. The Steelers frequently used their nickel and dime packages this season, but I’m not among those who think the shift in NFL offenses de-values the position of nose tackle. The Steelers’ defense is still predicated on stopping the run, and Pittsburgh gave up roughly 25 more rushing yards per game this season than it did in 2012. One of the most important offseason player personnel discussions will be whether the Steelers think McLendon can be their nose tackle of the future or whether they have to try and find one in the draft. What is interesting to note: Hebron Fangupo, whom the Steelers kept over 2012 fourth-round pick Alameda Ta’amu played just 13 snaps this season. Ta’amu, who signed with Arizona after getting released by the Steelers at the end of August, played 224 snaps at defensive tackle for a team that led the NFL in rushing defense.