First of all, Dick LeBeau has proven time and time again that he is a defensive coaching genius and if you don't believe that than maybe you shouldn't call yourself a Steeler fan. Now having said that I will move onto my article.
It is that time of year when every team is preparing for the next season and trying to improve upon the team from the previous season. Teams are adding free agents, either from their own roster or another team's, and they are preparing for the annual NFL draft. This is a lot of fans' favorite time of year other than actual game time. It provides a sense of hope and excitement while also adding mystery and drama. In reading all of the numerous articles, fan posts, and the comments that follow on this great site called BTSC, I have noticed a trend in the fans' opinions. This trend is the one where a fan or writer automatically dismisses a player, draft prospect or free agent, because "they don't fit our defensive system". This tends to bother me somewhat because it seems to downgrade one's faith in Coach LeBeau.
Coach LeBeau has been around the NFL for over 50 years as both a HOF player and a coach, and in that amount of time he has seen it all before his own eyes. No one should ever think that he is not capable of changing his "system", because he is actually doing it on a daily basis. I guarantee you that no one has as big of a defensive playbook as Coach LeBeau. His players have all said that he adds to the playbook on a daily basis and sometimes in the middle of games as he comes up with new ideas. Knowing that this is the case, I don't understand how we could disregard any player just because that player may not fit what the Steelers have done recently. Four or five years ago people would probably say that McClendon didn't fit as NT in Lebeau's system simply because he is not similar to Casey Hampton. Cameron Heyward is not Aaron Smith either, but it didn't stop "Coach Dad" from finding ways to allow him to make plays this past year.
We have all read or heard it this year, Donald doesn't fit the 3-4 or Dennard don't fit the zone defense. What I'm saying now is that if you give Coach LeBeau a playmaker at any position, he will find a use for that player. The NFL is always evolving and to stay on top Coach's have to evolve along with it, and if they don't they will find themselves out of a job. Coach LeBeau has managed to stay in this profession for a long time and it is because he is great at evolving his defenses to stopping offenses. In today's passing NFL the 3-4 O-line consuming, run-stuffing defensive linemen are becoming extinct. You need to have athletic players that are capable of both stopping the run and pass equally because otherwise teams will just play to their opponent's weaknesses. The rule changes have made the NFL a passing league where teams throw the ball first and run the ball second. The only way to counter this is by getting faster and more athletic on defense.
I am not saying that Coach LeBeau is going to totally overhaul his playbook, but what I am saying is that you will see him tweaking it more often. I don't think the team will eliminate any defensive playmaker simply because they don't "fit the system". The day has come when we have to get all the playmakers we can and then design a system that allows them to play to their ability. The Steelers no longer have that luxury of making sure they get the round peg for the round hole because to many other teams is now looking for that same round peg. When Coach LeBeau first came up with the zone blitz defense and ran it as a 3-4 because of the athleticism of LBs, not many other teams were running a 3-4 defense. This allowed the Steelers to get a lot of talented players that other teams were overlooking because the player simply "did not fit their system". Now there are a lot of other teams running the 3-4 or variants of it and they are after those same talented players. So it is time to tweak the defense to allow different type of players to also excel and make plays.
On a high school level teams are always adjusting systems to better fit the players they have each given year simply because there is no control over what type of players they will have. I for one think that Coach LeBeau is capable of doing the same thing only better with more capable athletes. What I am saying is that yes a player like Aaron Donald for example does not fit what the Steelers have done in the past, but I have full faith in Pittsburgh's coaching staff that if they chose Donald in the draft they would find ways to optimally utilize his skill set. This is not me saying that Pittsburgh should draft Donald, it is just me simply saying they shouldn't discount him because he doesn't fit the system we ran last year.
With players getting bigger and faster every year on both sides of the ball the game of football becomes more a game of strategy. It is like a game of chess in that you are always trying to counter your opponent's next move before he makes it and the best way to win is have better pieces. Well now sometimes those better pieces aren't the perfect match for your game strategy, so you may have to adjust your strategy to better fit your pieces. I believe that Coach LeBeau and the rest of the Steelers defensive coaching staff are more than capable of not just adjusting their strategy for existing pieces, but making up a strategy where those pieces will excel beyond expectations.
So before we just casually dismiss a player simply because they don't fit the current system we need to ask ourselves do we think Coach LeBeau is capable of changing his system. Remember that when he was coaching in Cincinnati, he used a 4-3 system because that was the personnel that he had available at that time. I am not saying that we are going to see a total overhaul of the Pittsburgh defensive system as we know it. I am saying that I believe the coaching staff is more than capable of performing such a move, but instead of total overhaul I feel we will see some major tweaking going on. Coach LeBeau wants his defense to be the best and I think he will do whatever it takes to make that happen.