Big Ben impressed with 'fast' defense
Big Ben impressed with 'fast' defense
June, 18, 2014
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- If anyone can attest to the speed that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added on defense it is the quarterback who has practiced against the new-look unit since late last month.
“I talked to Troy (Polamalu) yesterday and I told him this is a fast defense,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “We may not have a lot of names that people know, but we’re flying around. It’s tough to go against every day out there, but it’s going to be fun to watch on Sundays.”
The signing of free safety Mike Mitchell and the drafting of linebacker Ryan Shazier could transform a defense that seemed to be a step slow last season.
That is especially true if Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round pick, progresses as much at training camp as he has during the offseason practices.
“He understands concepts and picks things up a little bit easier than most rookies,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “I don’t like to play rookies, because in defensive football there’s two things that can get you beat. One of them is missed tackles, the other is mental mistakes. Normally when you try to learn this defense, it’s going to take you a little while to do it.”
The Steelers don’t have the luxury of bringing Shazier along slowly.
Not after consecutive 8-8 seasons and a descent into mediocrity due in part to a declining defense.
“We don’t have a choice whether we can play him or not,” Butler said of Shazier. “We’ve got to play him and be faster, and we’ve got to win.”
Count Dick LeBeau among those who think the Steelers' added speed will make a difference this season.
“If we can get that speed going in the right direction people will have to identify who’s coming from where,” the longtime defensive coordinator said. “Right now at this stage of the game I’m very excited about where we are. We’ve had as good an OTAs (practices) as I’ve been a part of.”
If it were truly up to LeBoo and Butler, Williams would be opening day starter at ILB. Rooney put his wing tip up their rear ends and told them the rookie excuse will no longer fly in this case and I, for one, am pleased that he did so. I believe we will also see some on field action from Tuitt as well, who really is like a first rounder as well.
Hall of Famer
Hmmm. which Rooney? Dan or Art?
Originally Posted by sick beats
It was LeBoo who told Rooney that he was tired of going with the vet concept and he was playing all rookies and 2nd year guys.
See, we all can make up stories.
Yeah. Good call.
Originally Posted by sick beats
It wasn't the draft picks who sucked as players that opened up the starting jobs on D...it was Rooney...
1. Let's assume that our owner has become more like Jerry Jones...being meddlesome by telling coaches which players should get playing time.
Originally Posted by sick beats
2. Let's applaud that as a step in the right direction.
Starting on the back end if Mitchell is quick enough to diagnose the plays( he sure is quick enough 40 wise) it will allow us to play cover 1 and Troy will spend more time in the box where he is at his best imho.
Blake has run a 4.18. Enough said.
Woodley lost a step last year and JW has a real good burst. Slight speed upgrade.
RS will play buck and mack since we don't flip to formation so his ability to go sideline to sideline or in coverage should pose a problem for any offense. Straight line to the qb as the mack should be a headache for any O.
Okay I don't like saying this but Ziggy was the last guy to move when the ball was snapped, So be it Thomas, Tuitt or whoever we will have gotten quicker at DE by subtraction.
Add that up and we should flash some much needed speed over a year ago.
Pittsburgh Steelers transitioning to younger, faster defense
By Judy Battista
NFL Media reporter
Published: June 20, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- In the soaring old cathedral and on the steaming gridiron, Pittsburgh marked the inevitable passage of time this week. Churches and football fields are both places for worship in this city. The bishop who led Tuesday's funeral mass for legendary coach Chuck Noll was handed a Terrible Towel as he stepped out into the sunshine, so it was fitting that, hours after former Steelers gathered to lay Noll to rest, the current iteration of the team went to practice -- the generational shift apparent in both places.
This season, the Steelers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first of four Super Bowls won by Noll's teams. That is a lifetime ago for the current players, very few of whom even met Noll. But the 2014 version of the Steelers feels far removed even from their very recent contemporaries, even from the group that was last written off as old and slow -- in 2011, when Pittsburgh finished with the best defense in the league for an astonishing fifth time in 11 seasons.
But this time, the Steelers really were put out to pasture. Two 8-8 seasons with a defense that generated just 10 interceptions in each led to a sweeping reconstruction that has infused the D with youth and speed, generated fresh excitement around the team and left the few remaining long-timers looking around in wonder. For a franchise that values stability and consistency as much as this one does, and that kept many of the pieces of its vaunted defense together as long as it did, the NFL's penchant for personnel shuffling can still seem foreign. One jarring reminder of how very dramatically the times have changed: At lunch this week, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were being regaled with stories by Joey Porter, the stellar linebacker who was on the Steelers' all-decade team for the 2000s, who is now a coach.
"We were very, very fortunate that a lot of our players played a long and wonderful career, played excellently for us, but in a matter of days, years, ticks of the clock, you're going to have different people," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "We were holding off as long as we could because those guys were very great players and they are difficult to replace. Some of these young guys are going to do a good job of doing exactly that."
Polamalu, the safety who has long been the linchpin of LeBeau's defense, rejoined the team for the first time this offseason this week, his long hair streaked with gray. His locker remains in a corner to the left of the locker room's entrance, but not much else seems familiar. Just three lockers away sits rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose speed likely has LeBeau deep in his wizard's lair crafting ways to use him. But Ryan Clark, with whom Polamalu teamed at safety for eight seasons, is gone. So is Brett Keisel, who spent 12 years at defensive end. Before them, it was James Harrison and James Farrior and Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith -- all pillars of the defense, all sent on their way. A lot of institutional knowledge -- to say nothing of Super Bowl rings -- have walked out the door, challenging those left behind to reconstruct again a defense that for decades has given identity to the Steelers. This is, after all, Blitzburgh.
"It's strange to be the oldest, most experienced guy in this locker room," Polamalu said. "I never thought that would happen."
Then Polamalu gestured to the chair next to his, where Jerome Bettis, the Steelers' long-time running back used to sit.
"Jerome was here and it seems like yesterday," Polamalu said. "He's one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game. He's old. And I hope one day I can get old, and here I am. I'm old, too."
The Steelers can only hope that the newer crop grows as old and remains as productive as Polamalu has. Last season, renewed health -- facilitated by his offseason training sessions with Marv Marinovich -- allowed him to play effectively in all 16 games, with many of the snaps coming with Polamalu lined up as a linebacker. The Steelers hope their new faces will relieve Polamalu of that responsibility and allow him to return to his regular strong safety position.
Much of the preseason storyline for Pittsburgh will revolve around Polamalu's mesh with Mike Mitchell, the free agent safety the Steelers acquired this spring. Mitchell is fast and smart, like Polamalu, but he will be just the third free safety Polamalu has paired with in his dozen years with the Steelers, and the two had not met in person until Tuesday. Still, the Steelers are counting on Mitchell's playmaking ability -- he had 3.5 sacks and four interceptions last year, his only campaign with the Carolina Panthers -- to invigorate a defense that had come to seem a tick too slow, a step too off the play in the last two years.
Mitchell said that the new-look roster constructed this offseason in Pittsburgh reminds him of last year's assemblage in Carolina, where the defense finished second in yards and points allowed and had 20 interceptions.
"I wasn't here before and it's like when you're getting into a new relationship -- you don't ask about the past," Mitchell said. "There's definitely some speed. I played with some fast guys in Oakland and fast guys in Carolina. This kind of reminds me of the defense in Carolina; we had athleticism at every position. It's the same way here. I think with our athleticism, we have the athleticism to be a top-three defense."
That would be a marked improvement for a defense that was first overall in points and yards allowed in 2011, was sixth in points and first in yards allowed in 2012, but plunged to 14th in points and 13th in yards allowed last season. Mitchell, though, is only part of the plan to fix that. Shazier, the first-round draft pick, is expected to play inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons, and the rookie has already caused a stir because his speed is likely to allow LeBeau to open up the playbook. The defensive maven said this week he thinks Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in the league. The Steelers were attracted to him during the pre-draft evaluations by how quickly he got to the quarterback when he blitzed at Ohio State. LeBeau is clear about his intentions for Shazier: He can cover and play any back or tight end one-on-one. And he will, of course, blitz.
While Polamalu was quick to caution against the enthusiasm for pure speed -- he noted that putting Usain Bolt on the field would not necessarily make the Steelers a good team -- it is obvious that getting faster was a key component of Pittsburgh's offseason plans. LeBeau believes a team can never have too much speed, because the faster defenders are, the more mistakes they can make up for. He predicts that the Steelers' defense will be fast enough to catch the ball on interception opportunities -- provided they can get everyone going in the right direction.
With so many new faces, that might seem like a daunting if, considering the complexity of LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme. But LeBeau, at age 76 and in his 55th year in the NFL, can take the very long view of the Steelers and their inexorable shift to the future. After all, when this team was being written off in 2011 -- NFL Media's Warren Sapp famously inflamed the locker room when he declared that it was over for Pittsburgh's defense -- LeBeau had to hold the unit together with the football equivalent of duct tape, using nine starting lineups in 16 games and deploying the same four starting linebackers -- the bulwark of the 3-4 defense -- just five times. He is used to the adjustments required by time.
In hindsight, the first signs of decline were upon that group. Pittsburgh forced just 15 turnovers in 2011, versus 35 in 2010. The result was that the Steelers feasted on teams with inept offenses and inexperienced quarterbacks. They struggled, though, against the game's elite. And that is simply not good enough in Pittsburgh, where being elite has been the norm since Noll changed the team's fortunes in the 1970s, and where the AFC North seems open for the taking, especially after the Steelers made a strong second-half run at a playoff spot last year (before ultimately falling just short).
"We got a first-round pick last year (Jarvis Jones), a first-round pick this year (Shazier), and we lost some wonderful, All-Pro players," LeBeau said. "It's accurate to say we are in transition, but we're certainly further down the road than when Farrior and Smith and Casey had to retire. The whole thing has been a process of changing the personnel. Yes, we're still in transition, but we're nowhere near where we were when all those guys had to leave."
At the end of the 2011 season, just days before the Steelers' vulnerabilities were laid bare by Tim Tebow in the playoffs, Farrior said something prophetic about his old-guard defense.
"We're going to keep going on until we can't go anymore," Farrior told me then.
Now the Steelers will try to go -- faster -- as the generations give way to the next.
Ben Roethlisberger: Steelers' D as fast as any I've seen
By Chris Wesseling
Around the League Writer
Published: June 23, 2014
The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense finished outside of the top 10 last season for the first time this century.
The problem, as NFL Media analyst Warren Sapp has been pointing out since 2011, is that Dick LeBeau's troops had grown old and slow.
We made the argument after the 2014 NFL Draft that the Steelers helped reverse Father Time by picking up Ryan Shazier, the NFL's fastest linebacker since Brian Urlacher entered the league out of New Mexico in 2000.
It isn't just Shazier, though. Ben Roethlisberger told KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh on Monday morning that this defense is as fast as any he has seen in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have led the NFL in defense five times in Roethlisberger's 10 years.
In addition to a trio of first-round draft picks at linebacker, the defense boasts one of the NFL's fastest players in cornerback Antwon Blake, who claims to have blazed a 4.18 40-yard dash at Texas El Paso.
Roethlisberger's optimism wasn't limited to the defense. He also offered high praise for the offensive line and second-year wide receiver Justin Brown, who had a "great" minicamp.
"I like where we are," Roethlisberger said. "I really do. I know we are young, but I have a really good feeling about this. If we can stay healthy, I like where we are and I'm really happy with our O-line and they have a chance to be great and as good as they are is going to help us."
Big Ben has a good reason to be excited about his annually beleaguered pass blockers. After Kelvin Beachum solidified left tackle and coordinator Todd Haley went to a heavy no-huddle attack, Roethlisberger was sacked just 11 times over the final eight games.
The Steelers' 6-2 record was tied for the AFC's best in the second half of last season. They will be even better this year.