With mini-camps wrapped up, we have an early (although by no means complete) idea of what changes Mike Tomlin will bring to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Tomlin's pedigree in the 4-3 defense, many of us thought it was not a matter of if but when the Steelers would make the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3.
Well, it's not going to happen this year, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect some major wrinkles to the Steelers' defensive scheme this year. It all started with Brett Keisel's realignment as a rover during May practices. By the time mini-camp was completed last week, other players also had been shuffled around in a peculiar, unorthodox manner. The predominant theme has been experimenting with new ways to become unpredicatable and effective on 3rd down.
In recent years under DC Dick LeBeau, the Steelers employed a 4-1-6 or a 4-2-5 alignment on 3rd down, with only Polamalu given the freedom to move around prior to the snap. Now, according to Keisel, the offense should have no idea what the Steelers are doing:
We've got a lot of things we're running around with right now. It's been really exciting watching them unfold, and watching (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau's wizardry come through."
Now, let me say that just beacuse we're toying with it during the offseason doesn't guarantee that it will become a mainstay of our scheme during the season. Last offseason, many of us were giddy about the prospect of Big Ben running the no-huddle offense. We never saw it in action in 2006 of course, probably due to Big Ben's health issues, but also perhaps because its risky and takes guts to employ something wholly different when the games are actually being played.
I do think that Cowher had become too unimaginative and unwilling to adapt in his final years. And I also don't think that Tomlin will fall into this trap. But I do know that if we are going to return to form in 2007, we're going to have to mix things up on the defensive side of the ball. We have talent on D, but I wouldn't say we're loaded personnel wise on that side of the ball. That may require us to be more innovative than in years past.