Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Should Alameda Ta'amu Be Expected to Start as Well? By Chris G. (Featured Columnist) on May 17, 2012

The Pittsburgh Steelers added some serious talent to their lines in the draft this year by selecting three linemen with their first four selections.

With Willie Colon moving to guard, chances are that second-round selection Mike Adams will join first-round selection David DeCastro on the offensive line as a starter as soon as Week 1.

The young talent should instantly help upgrade a weak offensive line and help turn the unit into a strength. This will have a positive effect on the rest of the offensive unit, which has underachieved in terms of points scored.

With the offensive line appearing to be in better shape than last season with the addition of two talented rookies, should the defensive line get the same treatment?

Ziggy Hood will enter the season as a starter at left defensive end, and while he will not overtake Brett Keisel yet, second-year defensive end Cameron Heyward will see a lot of time in the Steelers' defensive line rotation.

Pittsburgh's defense may best be served to give a young player significant playing time in the middle of their defense as well.

Alameda Ta'amu was one of the top-rated nose tackles in this year's draft, and the Steelers were thrilled to trade up for him in the fourth round.

There is a possibility that Casey Hampton will not be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and even if he is, how effective will he be?

Already last season, prior to his injury, Hampton showed signs of decline, not being the same dominant force against the run and failed to command double teams.

Steve McLendon worked his way onto the field, but he does not offer the same level or performance as Hampton. He wasn't even at the level of Chris Hoke in his prime; then again, Hoke rarely showed any drop off from Hampton and at times played better.

While Pittsburgh could settle to go with the player with more experience, they can also try to go with the high-upside player on their defensive line just as they are on the offensive line.

Ta'amu is massive at 6'3", 348 pounds, and he should be a force in the middle for years to come once he develops.

The problem is, is Ta'amu's technique good enough to start? Defensive line coach John Mitchell is very particular about this and will strip Ta'amu down and build him back up. It is a reason that rookie defensive linemen do not get much playing time.

It is not out of the question for a nose tackle to start, though. Hampton started 11 regular season games and two playoff games as a rookie and helped the Steelers defense to a successful season.

Ta'amu may not have the NFL experience, but he does have the frame to command double teams and anchor the defensive line against the run.

The problem is, Ta'amu is inconsistent with his effort, and this will be a detriment if this pattern holds. But if Hampton is injured to start the year, even a developing Ta'amu may be a better option than the limited McLendon.

All Pittsburgh needs is for Ta'amu to be a two-down player as they switch personnel for passing downs. If he can command a double team, that is already an upgrade over what we saw most of last season.

Ta'amu, as with any rookie, will have his weaknesses and growing pains, but he also has an upside that no other nose tackle has on the roster and he could be the best option to play at the start of the season, particularly if Hampton is injured.

Pittsburgh should not hand the job to Ta'amu, but he should have every opportunity to earn it.

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