There are new faces on defense for the Steelers in 2014, and their coordinator is excited about them.
Coordinator Dick LeBeau already has begun the process of integrating the new faces into the defensive system. Five of the Steelers nine draft picks were defensive players, and the team also signed three defensive players as unrestricted free agents. LeBeau recently talked about some of those additions as well as how the defense might increase its number of interceptions in 2014:
Q. What does Mike Mitchell bring to the defense?
A. Well, I like him. I like Cam Thomas also, and we picked him up from San Diego. They’re both solid veterans. Mike Mitchell is fast, very fast, a good solid tackler (and) an excellent blitzer. I looked at quite a bit of his tape during the free agency period. and you had to look pretty far to find any weaknesses. I think we have a really quality player there.
Q. What about defensive lineman Cam Thomas (pictured above) specifically do you like?
A. He’s a big man who has quickness. Real good at initial quickness and that’s a good combination - strength and quickness. He’s going to help us no doubt.
Q. Was the speed issue on defense something that needed to be addressed?
A. Well speed is always a valued entity for a defense. The faster you are the more mistakes you can make and catch up to them a little bit. But you can never have too much speed, and we drafted a very fast man in Ryan (Shazier). In free agency we got Mike, who is a very fast man, and Lawrence (Timmons) is with us and has been with us all along. He’s a very fast man. We have speed in the secondary. I think we’re going to be fast enough to catch the ball if we can all get lined up and see where the ball is going.
Q. In each of the previous two seasons, the defense has come up with only 10 interceptions. How do you go about raising that number?
A. Well you play 16 games, so to not even get one a game is definitely not high enough. You get more interceptions when you’re ahead in the football game, and the early part of last year we weren’t. Our interceptions, our turnover numbers came up quite a bit when we started as a team playing better football. But we will continue to work on stressing creating turnovers, and practice a lot of ball drills. We’ll reward the good plays in practice and try to get the focus on getting the ball. I know we can get it. We just have to identify and establish that in the games.
Q. With the way offense is now played at the NFL level, is run defense not as critical as it used to be?
A. I think that’s valid. They don’t run as much, they throw it all the time. They don’t huddle half the time and they have three or four wide receivers. Well that’s not exactly a running formation. You do have to be able to defend the run or you’ll never be in the game. I would say that the game is, I don’t know this is nothing new, it’s been trending towards a passing game since 1965 really. This is just the new addition.
Q. Is it overblown that veteran safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu have to get used to playing with one another?
A. The good thing that you said there is they’re veteran safeties. Football is football. It’ll take them some snaps and some weeks to get acclimated to each other (and) the plusses and minuses of each one. But when we get up to training camp, we’ve got nothing to do but play football. They’re going to have plenty of time to do that. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.