Now, the veteran outside linebacker wants to return the favor on the field as one of the leaders of a revamped Steelers defense.
“To feel like you’ve been compensated for your efforts, it feels good,” Moats said. “But ultimately you have to produce and that’s what I’m excited about.
“I look at it as a chance for us to establish ourselves as a new Steel Curtain.”
An effective pass rush has always been an integral part of past Steelers defenses, but it’s an area that has lacked in recent years.
Pittsburgh finished 26th last season with just 33 sacks, four years removed from a league-best 48 sacks.
“That goes with the history of the organization and the success they’ve had defensively,” Moats said. “Last year wasn’t near that type of level. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder.”
The Steelers signed Moats to a three-year, $7.5 million deal in March, one year after bringing him in as an unrestricted free agent from Buffalo for the league minimum. He joins a group that features Bud Dupree, this year’s first-round pick, in addition to 37-year-old James Harrison and Jarvis Jones, the team’s first rounder in 2013, who is healthy after missing nine games last season with a wrist injury.
“I feel good about our outside group,” Moats said.
When Moats re-signed, he did with the intent of competing for the starting job at left outside linebacker.
“We definitely talked about it and I told them that I wanted the opportunity to compete for that spot and play,” Moats said. “That was my biggest thing and that’s what I’m getting, so I have to make the most of it.”
The Steelers have discussed a potential pass rush rotation once the regular season begins between Moats and Dupree on the left side and Jones and Harrison at right outside linebacker.
It’s a plan that’s welcome to Moats.
“It’s our full understanding that once the regular season starts we’re going to rotate because we know we’re going to be a better group that way,” Moats said. “It’s going to make us have to compete with each other, which is going to make us a better defense.”
Moats played in all 16 regular season games in 2014, making 10 starts.
Perhaps his most important contribution came in December at Cincinnati when he forced and recovered a fumble that led to the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown. It was the start of a regular-season-ending four-game winning streak and part of an 8-2 stretch that helped the Steelers capture their first AFC North title since 2011.
“Defensively, we got hot and we started playing a lot better and ultimately that’s what it’s going to take for us to be successful,” Moats said. “You can’t take plays off because all it takes is one bad play to give up a touchdown.”
Moats is encouraged by this year’s group though and believes the strong finish last season could set up the Steelers for big things this season.
“I felt like last year we should’ve made a longer run in the playoffs, but we came up short,” Moats said. “Ultimately, I feel like we’re hungry and we have the talent. It’s all a matter of staying healthy and executing.”
NOTES: The Steelers activated QB Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder) from the physically unable to perform list and he practiced on Sunday. … S Mike Mitchell (hamstring) practiced for the first time in pads on Sunday and S Robert Golden (knee) the first time in more than a week. … LB Lawrence Timmons (toe) missed Sunday’s practice and WR David Nelson left early with a shoulder injury.
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