Going into the 2021 NFL season, Steelers defensive tackle Chris Wormley had 3.5 career sacks from his time in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. After a fractured ankle landed nose tackle Tyson Alualu on injured reserve, Wormley took advantage of the increased playing time and broke out with seven sacks, good for third on the team behind T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward. He also reached career-highs in total tackles (51), tackles for loss (six), and quarterback hits (10).
Despite Wormley’s breakout season as a starter, the arrival of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobicould force Wormley back into a reserve role, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. Pittsburgh will likely rely on Ogunjobi to be a more well-rounded lineman, as Wormley tends to lose battles off the snap on running plays. The Steelers defense allowed the most rushing yards of any team last season, and it looks like signing Ogunjobi is a move that will address that.
Here are a couple other notes from the Steel City’s roster breakdown:
Rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal is another player that could limit Wormley’s playing time. Just as Wormley had spent time as an end with the Ravens and a tackle with the Steelers, Leal provides the versatility to play both inside and outside on the defensive line. If he can impress in camp and the preseason, I’d expect Leal to play more at the start of the season and for the Steelers to lean on Wormley more as the season wears on longer than Leal is used to from 12-game college regular seasons. Otherwise, giving him a bit more time to get adjusted while keeping him fresh for some late-season playing time could be extremely effective, as well. The combination of Leal and Wormley as versatile, athletic defensive line options gives Pittsburgh a couple of possibilities that could really help its defensive line depth.
With Joe Haden departing Pittsburgh for free agency, the Steelers have two cornerbacks who could potentially replace Haden as the starter opposite Cameron Sutton next season. 2021 trade acquisition Ahkello Witherspoon showed a ton of promise to end last season, totaling three interceptions and nine passes defensed in a six-week span. Pittsburgh will likely give him the opportunity to build off of that production for a full season. This leaves free agent signing Levi Wallace as the probable No. 3 cornerback to start the year for the Steelers. During spring practices, Sutton and Witherspoon lined up with the first-team defense on the outside in normal alignments, but, in nickel and dime packages, Sutton would bump inside and Wallace would come in on the outside.
This offseason has seen a number of changes on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers, leaving questions being asked at the cornerback and defensive line positions in particular. However, as detailed by Mark Kaboly of the Athletic (subscription required), the team is looking to internal options to fill important roles at those spots.
The CB room includes, as Kaboly states, a number of complimentary players, such as a former third-rounders Ahkello Witherspoon and Cameron Sutton. The latter took on a much larger workload in 2022, playing over 1,000 snaps for the first time in his career. Pittsburgh also added former Bill Levi Wallacein free agency, giving them another consistent, starting-caliber member of the secondary.
The unit has lost a familiar face in veteran Joe Haden, who was reported to be on the way out earlier this offseason. On that point, Kaboly confirms that the Steelers “have shown no interest” in a reunion with the 33-year-old. Lacking an established No. 1 at the position, Kaboly reports that team nevertheless appears willing to “ride with what they have,” leaning on their elite pass rush.
Their front seven suffered a substantial loss as well, though, after the retirement ofStephon Tuitt. That leaves the team in need of a new starter along the defensive line, which should lead to an increased workload for TysonAlualu. The 35-year-old played only two games in 2021 because of an ankle injury, but he has provided consistent rotational play throughout his career. Kaboly also names Chris Wormleyas an incumbent in line for more snaps. The former Raven recorded a career-high seven sacks last year, but was also part of the reason Pittsburgh gave up a league-worst 146 yards per game on the ground. Recent draftees Isaiahh Loudermilkand DeMarvin Lealwill feature in the d-line rotation as well.
This late in the offseason, the Steelers, like all teams, are essentially set at the top of their roster. While their defense still features the likes of T.J. Watt, Cam Heywardand Minkah Fitzpatrick, internal progress will need to be made at the front and backends of the unit if it is to help lead the team to another playoff berth.