Keep the opponent from outscoring you, and get the ball back to the offense as often as possible. Defense and ground and pound were the identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers, particularly in the second half of the season.
As Kenny Pickett continues to develop, that will be the formula the Steelers live (or die) by. Having sustained success stopping the run and defending the pass is how Pittsburgh will get it done. One of the key components to it is veteran defensive tackle Cam Heyward. Though he’s still producing at a high level, Heyward isn’t getting any younger. The Steelers need to consider using a top pick to prepare for his eventual retirement, or they’ll be in trouble when he does.
Clemson Tigers tackle Bryan Bresse would be learning from one of the best in the business should Pittsburgh take him at No. 17. He declared as a redshirt sophomore, so he’ll need plenty of guidance but has all of the tools.
CBS Sports’ Kyle Stackpole’s February 6 mock draft sent Bresse to the Steelers. Ranked as the 32nd-best player overall and the fourth defensive lineman, here’s what Stackpole had to say about Bresse.
The No. 1 high school player in the country a few years ago didn’t have his best season in 2022, but the Clemson product still has everything you want in a formidable interior disruptor. With Larry Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley set to become free agents and Cam Heyward entering his 13th season, having Bryan Bresee will ensure the Steelers continue to have a fearsome defensive front.
Bresse’s collegiate career started off on a high note. In 11 games, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound freshman logged 23 tackles, 4.0 sacks, a blocked field goal and a forced fumble, earning him the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
13 tackles and 1.5 sacks into his second season, Bresse suffered an ACL tear. In 2022, a non-football medical issue (kidney infection) and the heartbreaking loss of his 15-year-old sister to brain cancer limited him to 10 games. But he pushed through for 15 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two defended passes.
Though Bresse’s playing days at Clemson were limited, which could be an advantage to where he lands, his dominance when on the field earned him a first-round projection.
Steelers’ Cam Heyward on the Tail-End of a Tremendous Career
At age 33 and 12 years into his Steelers career, defensive tackle Cam Heyward is coming off one of the best seasons. He’s put up 10.5 sacks, 74 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 22 QB hits.
Heyward is the first lineman in Steelers’ history to have three double-digit sack years. His 78.5 career sacks rank him third-most among active defensive tackles and 12th in the league.
And though retirement has come a-knockin’, Heyward doesn’t sound like he’s ready to answer.
“I don’t think I’m retiring right now,” Heyward said on his January 11 Not Just Football podcast. “I gotta give my body time to rest… I want to keep playing. I want to continue to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.”
Steelers Could Go Anywhere in the NFL Draft
Defensive line, offensive line, secondary, wide receiver. Pick a position, any position, and the Pittsburgh Steelers could go that route to satisfy a key contributor.
Another glaring need for Pittsburgh is at cornerback.
Oregon Ducks’ Christian Gonzalez went off the board to the Washington Commanders at No. 16 in Stackpole’s mock. In reality, if he’s still there when it’s Pittsburgh’s turn to pick, it could be a great value.
CBS Sports has Gonzalez ranked as the second-best cornerback in the NFL draft and 12th-best overall. Stackpole writes that his playmaking ability will provide a ball hawk in the secondary.
It sure would be nice to see a ball hawk in for the Steelers at corner. Something tells me he’d fit right in with a guy named Minkah Fitzpatrick.