With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Montravius Adams will play the majority of the 3-4 nose tackle snaps this year.
Explanation: Let’s start by defining what we mean by ‘nose tackle’ in this context. We’re talking about base 3-4 fronts, with the defensive tackle playing typically a 0- or 1-technique position, barring the occasional shift that moves him elsewhere. Adams played most of the 2022 season as the starting nose tackle, but the Steelers added Breiden Fehoko in free agency (and Armon Watts) and drafted Keeanu Benton in the second round.
The Steelers may be talking about Keeanu Benton starting out at nose tackle, but let’s be honest. He’s primarily going to play in nickel packages. That’s what will mostly be available, and frankly that’s probably what he’ll be suited to do best.
On top of that, he’s just getting his career started. Yes, he played in more of a pro-ready defense in Wisconsin, but this isn’t automatically a plug-and-play situation. This isn’t like Javon Hargrave in 2016, who dominated at his level (albeit a lower level) and had no incumbent to contend with after Steve McLendon left. His competition isn’t nicknamed Shade Tree (shoutout to Daniel McCullers, whatever you’re eating).
As for Breiden Fehoko, well, he has to start by making the team, and that’s not a guarantee—one of the reasons he wasn’t given a signing bonus. He’ll be competing with Isaiahh Loudermilk for potentially a sixth and final roster spot for the defensive line. Assuming he makes it, he’ll get some work in obvious rushing situations at least, but he’s not going to be a starter. He’s a situational run-stuffer.
But the thing is, run-stuffing situations tend to call for a 3-4 front, or even a more aggressive heavy front with fewer than four defensive backs on the field. Fehoko will definitely get some of those snaps, maybe even some of them with Adams on the field.
The real kicker, though, is Benton. Plain and simply, he’s going to earn playing time. And with Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi, they’re going to have to find a place to put him. That’s going to be at nose tackle.
Let’s not forget that Adams has never ‘won’ a starting job. Tyson Alualu was demoted last year because his play diminished after breaking his ankle in 2021. The truth is the veteran may not even make the 53-man roster, in part because of his contract. The defensive line is deep, and they may feel they have enough to get by without him, in the process saving about $1.56 million in cap space.