Dick LeBeau addressed the more interesting issues surrounding the Steelers' defense in this wide-ranging interview. Here's the transcript:
Dick LeBeau, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
Q: You expressed optimism at the draft that Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt would play a lot. Whatís the update?
DL: I donít want to overload their plate but I would say theyíre ahead of schedule. Theyíve been very much a pleasure for the whole coaching staff, mostly because of the type of people they are. Theyíre hard workers. They know theyíve got a lot to learn, and thatís not always the case. And theyíre very open to coaching. I donít know when but weíre expecting some pretty good things from those guys.
Q: Is starting plausible?
DL: I think Ryanís going to start and I could see Tuitt playing an awful lot of snaps.
Q: What has Tuitt shown you?
DL: Just what we saw from his college career. Heís an exceptional athlete for his size, and he can run. Even though I knew he could run, when I see him in person I am surprised by his endurance and his speed and quickness. I mean, I donít know if Iíve seen a guy that big move like that. Now, does that mean heís going to be a great player? No it doesnít. There are a lot of other things that come in there. He seems willing to try to acquire that knowledge and those skills, so weíll see where he goes. Again, these young guys, I donít want to overload the expectations, but at this stage in the training camp, theyíre doing a good job.
Q: Rookies donít often start. What is separating Ryan? Is it opportunity and ability merging?
DL: Thatís true. All of the above. The spotís there and he has exceptional athletic ability. I think heís going to be able to make a lot of plays for us.
Q: Are you expecting to see Johnny Manziel in the opener?
DL: I am. I am. If heís not, weíll play the other guy. Iím going to take a good look at him. Letís put it that way.
Q: Why do you think heíll play?
DL: He impressed me with his college career. He makes plays, and he was playing against some real talented athletes in that conference on defense, too. What I could see they were getting up there around 45, 50 points a game, so your quarterbackís gotta be doing something right. And he can keep the play alive. Iím not a coach in Cleveland, and I donít know what theyíre going to do, Iím just telling you what Iím doing.
Q: What can you do to change the number of big plays you allowed last year?
DL: We can play a whole lot better and coach a whole lot better. You hit the nail right on the head. I mean, a minimum of five or six plays wouldíve totally changed the look of our statistical picture. But every play counts and we did give up too many big plays. Thatís always been one of our strengths. We intend to make it (one) again.
Q: Can young guys elevate the energy level, particularly as it pertains to takeaways?
DL: We have been short at that but I donít think youth has anything to do with that. Iíll take youth any day if they go the right direction. Iím not against youth.
Q: The linebackers are really flowing to the ball. Howís Lawrence Timmons as a leader? And has the revamping of the LB corps met with your satisfaction?
DL: Yeah weíre going to be fast there. Weíve got four fast guys there and I think weíre coming along with depth. Weíre still looking to develop that. Lawrence is an amazing guy. He played the open inside backer for us all along. We had some injury problems a couple years ago and he went to outside and did a great job for us outside. He played the inside in the third-down defense. And when we had a problem at the strong side, he went to the strong side. Heís a very versatile guy. He really looks at home, to me, on the strong side. I think those two guys are going to give us a lot of speed at a position that doesnít necessarily feature speed. Weíre going to be fast at the inside backer.
Q: Ever have anyone play all of those different linebacker positions?
DL: I have. I have had several different players but I donít think Iíve ever had anyone play it better than Lawrence has played them.
Q: Surprised he hasnít made a Pro Bowl?
DL: Iíve said for three years heís been playing at a Pro Bowl level, for three years now. A couple of those years we led the daggone league in defense, and he shouldíve gone. But, again, thatís just my opinion.
Q: Have you noticed whether Jarvis Jones is stronger?
DL: Yes, yes I have. And he can still get stronger. But heís working on that. He came along with the on-the-job training last year. Part of the reason of our turnaround, particularly defensively, was some of those younger guys that really hadnít started Ė Jason and he and there are others Ė but they all improved because of the way they worked and kept their focus. I think Jarvis Jones is going to be a good outside linebacker.
Q: Do you view last year as an anomaly for Ike Taylor?
DL: He was playing with some injuries last year. True professional players do that and they donít use it for a crutch. You didnít hear that from Mike (Tomlin), but I could see it. Again, from the middle of the season on, if you look at him itís really close to playing like Ike can play. He looks good at training camp. I think the anomaly part is that he was injured. But we needed him in there. Iím not saying that. But itís going to affect his play a little bit.
Q: Was there a common thread with the big plays you gave up last year?
DL: Yeah. We were young early in the season and didnít go the right way. It left gaps. When you leave gaps in the National Football League, youíre out of here, baby.
Q: What are we going to see differently with Mike Mitchell back there as opposed to Ryan Clark back there?
DL: I donít want to compare the two. Theyíre both great players. But Mike is the one weíve got now and I think youíre going to see a really veteran football player, tremendous range, good ball skills, and a good tackler. Heís going to be part of our speed package. When I talk about having a fast defense, heís one of the fast guys. Again, those two safeties weíve got and those four linebackers weíve got, at those positions we can run a race with anybody in the NFL. Problem is, it ainít a race. Itís a football game.
Q: With the depth at those positions, are you ready for up-tempo offenses more than ever?
DL: Well we better be ready for íem, because thatís what youíre going to see. Nobody huddles in football, not even in high school football. Weíve been working on it from Day One in the coaching sessions, so itís not going to be something theyíre not comfortable with. But weíll have to prove that we can execute and handle it, because youíre going to get it. Youíre going to get it week-in and week-out.
Q: Is the notion of an every-down linebacker like Lawrence starting to fade away?
DL: Youíre always going to have to have one or two of those guys in there. Not every playís a pass, even though itís third-and-8. Itís good to have a lot of little guys that are really fast running around covering those speed guys, but youíve got to have somebody with a little muscle, too. I think there will always be a place for a bigger backer, but heíll have to be of the ilk of Lawrence, agile enough and fast enough to do some stuff in pass coverage.
Q: Are base defenses suddenly the exception anymore? Are nickel defenses the default setting?
DL: You can look at the number of snaps. The only thing I would disagree with your statement is Ďsuddenly.í I mean, Iíve been aware of this for five years. We coach that way. We built our team that way. I tell our guys the first day in, everybody in this room is going to have a hat and play a significant amount of snaps; first of all, because of personnel packages, and then youíre going to have some injuries. It isnít anything new at all. Is it a little more dramatic? Sure, because theyíre having success doing that.
Q: Is this a passing trend? Will it be going away any time soon?
DL: You watch football, donít you? I donít know that itís a trend. I think the (passing) trend would have to be to go back to the old two-back and run it off tackle. I donít think youíre going to see that. Itís here to stay