3Rivers’ training camp wishlist: The Steelers defense

With the Pittsburgh Steelers now in training camp at Saint Vincent’s College in Latrobe (Penn.), it’s the perfect time for me to reveal the second part of my Steelers camp wishlist: the defense. In this quick-hitter, I’ll go over the things I most want to see on the defensive side of the ball from Pittsburgh throughout the official training period. I’ll also briefly add special teams, as well.

I went over my top offense desires previously. Yes, I realize that what I am hoping for isn’t necessarily lined up with what the Steelers organization has planned, but after speaking with several other fans my bullet points are shared by many.

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A return to linebacker dominance

I’m not overly concerned with the outside of the linebackers group; Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt are solid playmakers with depth behind them that won’t require asking defensive linemen to attempt to play EDGE this year. Instead, I’m focused on the inside/middle or interior linebackers.

Over the years, the Steelers have fielded some of the most dominant middle linebackers in the league. In the last few seasons, they’ve tried a hodgepodge of individuals that, when challenged, just didn’t command much respect from opponents. That needs to change.

There are tipsters who felt Devin Bush was supposed to be the next Ryan Shazier; that didn’t quite work out the way the Steelers, or Bush, planned. Myles Jack was a big-name player that also fizzled. Add in quite a number of other players and it becomes more obvious that the Steelers desperately tried to improve this particular area on defense with little success.

During the off-season, Steelers general manager Omar Khan seemed keyed-in on this group as well. Jack, Bush, and Robert Spillane were all allowed to seek jobs elsewhere while Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, and Kwon Alexander have been added as veteran free agents. Mark Robinson, Tanner Muse, and Nick Kwiatkoski are also in the mix in camp this year.

Regardless of who earns the starting spots, my wishlist item here is that the Steelers find the right combo that once again gives them dominance at inside linebacker.


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Porter Jr. living up to expectations over hype

It may seem like I’m singling Joey Porter Jr. out… and he’s “just a rookie.” He’s a freshly-drafted player with big shoes to fill since his father, Joey Porter, made such an impression while with the Steelers. It’s hard not to put certain individuals on the wishlist (as I did with Kenny Pickett on my offense list), though. Sometimes there is just a particular reason to want something from a single individual.

My wish is that the young cornerback lives up to expectations over the hype that his last name (Porter) carries.

What do I mean by that?

I don’t necessarily believe Porter Jr. needs to start right away. In fact, I’d prefer he wasn’t forced to play regular season games as an immediate starting corner. I’m excited about what he potentially adds to Pittsburgh’s defense long-term, so I’m inclined to desire he be able to shadow more veteran players throughout camp. I believe that would him to live up to expectations.

Even if Porter Jr. is exceptional in camp, I’m still rooting for the Steelers to give him the education before throwing him into the fire. Many fans are excited about him being an immediate starter out of the gate. That’s the hype.

I see that – in this case – as a missed opportunity to allow him to grow into the role with Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace preparing him in every way for a long, successful NFL career.

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Better results from special teams

I should preface this by saying that I think placekicker Chris Boswell isn’t a concern. In fact, my focus is the counterpart to Boswell in the punter position on special teams.

Pressley Harvin blasted onto the Steelers roster (almost literally due to one of the best preseason punts I’ve ever witnessed) but has been wildly inconsistent, often setting his teammates up into tough situations and poor field positions.

My wish – and I admitted I’d add a special teams item here – is that Harvin is thoroughly put through the paces with Braden Mann in camp until he either shows better results or Mann takes over.

Sure, it’s fun to talk about how the “phat punter” (Harvin) has enough leg to look able to kick a ball out of the Steelers’ stadium and into the confluence of three rivers. Unfortunately, too many truly poor punts have soured me to the idea of just how valuable he is to this team.

If Mann is more consistent at camp, I seriously think Pittsburgh can’t afford to keep Harvin on the roster.

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