This is the eighth in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is defensive end.
Projected starters: Heyward and Thomas. Heyward is poised to become one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL and he should again provide an inside rush on passing downs. Thomas is the left starting end but sooner rather than later he will give way to Tuitt and settle into the Steelers' preferred role for him as a swing defensive end/nose tackle.
Projected number on 53-man roster: Four. Hard to see the Steelers keeping more here though they could go with five as coach Mike Tomlin prefers to dress an extra defensive lineman for games early in the season when heat and humidity are a factor.
Rookie watch: The Steelers look like they hit big with Tuitt, their second-round draft pick. The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder is already replacing Thomas in the nickel defense and he is going to play a lot of snaps this season. Mauro, an undrafted free agent, has really emerged and moved past Arnfelt at right defensive end. The Stanford product has the edge over Arnfelt for the final roster spot at this position.
What we learned in camp: Tuitt has an explosive first step and already has an NFL body. His development has made it less likely that the Steelers will bring back Brett Keisel, though they haven’t ruled out the possibility. Thomas should be fine in the role the Steelers want him to play and Mauro is an interesting developmental player. Heyward is the unquestioned leader of this group and a recent snapshot showed why. A running play during one practice went opposite Heyward but that didn’t stop him from running all of the way across the field to chase down the back who had already been touched down. And this was at the end of a camp in which the Steelers were in pads for every practice except for walk-throughs for an upcoming game. Heyward is captain material.
He said it: “Even though I knew he could run, when I see him in person I am surprised by his endurance and his speed and quickness. I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy that big move like that. Now, does that mean he’s going to be a great player? No it doesn’t. There’s a lot of other things that come in there. But he seems willing to try to acquire that knowledge and those skills.” – Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on Tuitt.