Dick LeBeau is now the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, and as awkward and strange as it is to see "Coach Dad" wearing the powder blue gear of the Titans, it is equally weird to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense without mentioning LeBeau and his legendary 3-4 zone blitzing scheme.
After all, LeBeau's tenure had been as equally congruent with that of other Steelers coaches since he returned to the team following a short stint as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach. So, with LeBeau gone, the players now have to get used to someone else calling the shots. Luckily for them, that person is Keith Butler and not some outsider trying to get to know his personnel.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere are anxiously waiting to see what Butler will do differently from LeBeau who preceded him. Fans and media alike have been given a few nuggets of information to digest in regards to some of the changes the team could deploy when they travel to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots in Week 1.
Steelers defensive philosophy: Seek and Destroy
The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to make more plays in the opposition's backfield, and it starts with the front-seven. The new defensive philosophy will only aid in the team's improving defense.
First, Butler seems determined to allow his defensive front to not just clog holes and occupy offensive linemen, but to rush the quarterback. This news had to be music to Cameron Heyward's ears as the defensive lineman tallied 7.5 sacks in LeBeau's scheme which tied for the team lead in 2014.
Second, Butler wants his players to fly to the ball with physicality. Players who wear a black and gold uniform will be expected to play a fast, athletic and physical style of play if they are on the field. There will be no shying away from contact within Butler's system, and doing so will bring forth a 'seek and destroy' mentality.
Lastly, and the ultimate goal for any defensive coordinator would be to stop the run. The Steelers surrendered over 100 yards in 2014 on average, and Butler realizes the goal of stopping the run first will never change, despite the perceived deficiencies the team has within the secondary.
Butler has wrinkles up his sleeves, but for this young defense they have to take what he is teaching and put it into practice. Fortunately for Butlers and fans everywhere the defensive line seems to be adjusting well to Butler's philosophies.
The Steelers have been doing a tremendous job of stuffing the run within the first week of training camp, which is a step in the right direction. As Chris Adamski and Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out during the team's Friday night practice, the Steelers run defense has been stellar.
Nose tackle Dan McCullers continued to plug the middle. During the team scrimmage, McCullers blocked the middle of the line, and Stingily had nowhere to go.
The defense owned the offense during the 11-on-11 team period. With most of the plays being runs, the offensive line got little push. The biggest rush play was Williams' 5-yard gain on a power counter, but it got called back because of a hold.
The Steelers practiced running the ball out of the shadow of their own goal line. Le'Veon Bell ran twice for 6 yards. Williams took the other first-team rep for a minimal gain.
Whether this is training camp, second string or starters is irrelevant. The Steelers deploy a good offensive line, and the fact they have been struggling to run the ball is a positive sign for a defense which hopes to return to their rightful place in the Top 10 in the NFL this season.
Some might point to the Steelers' run defense ranking in 2014 as a sign the rush defense wasn't bad, but look closer and you will see the team struggled to stop the run when it mattered the most. Quite frankly, many teams abandoned the run due to the fact they could throw the ball with such ease against the beat up and questionable secondary of the Steelers.
The Steelers lost Brett Keisel along the defensive line, but added youth and athleticism to the roster. Stephon Tuitt looks to be the real deal and every bit of a specimen as a second round pick in his second season. Steve McLendon was known for his ability to press through the offensive line and create havoc in the backfield when his job was to spell Casey Hampton. His skill set hasn't changed and under Butler should be able to unleash those skills again this year. Daniel McCullers looks to be the plugger the team looks for in their nose tackle within the 3-4 defense. His ability to get push and clog the middle of the line of scrimmage in invaluable to the defense from a run-stopping standpoint, and Cameron Heyward's body of work simply speaks for itself.
The Steelers defense is the question mark heading into 2015, but if the early portions of training camp are any indication, the defense should be "on the up-and-up" as head coach Mike Tomlin would say. The Steelers success this season could hinge on the defense, and Butler's stamp on this young unit could be the difference between a championship season and a disappointment. All signs point to the defense getting off to a good start.