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Pittsburgh Steelers: Post-LeBeau Era Defense Makes Debut

After endless speculation this offseason about the state of the Steelers defense, we finally got our first look at Keith Butler's brand of Steelers D.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Even without safety Mike Mitchell, safety Shamarko Thomas, cornerback Cortez Allen, OLB Jarvis Jones, and OLB James Harrison, the Steelers defense made an impressive debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in the first preseason game of the year. While there were missteps and several glaring weak points, overall the defense under defensive coordinator Keith Butler showed signs of promise.

What did Keith Butler bring to the field?

Keith Butler's brand of Steelers defense was still physical-- and fast-- but this is not LeBeau 2.0. Mike Tomlin personally helped the cornerbacks with Cover-2 technique in training camp, so it is no surprise that they did bring some Cover 2 to the field in Sunday's game. Likewise, there was a brief glimpse of a 4-3 front early on in the game. Again, not a huge surprise since Mike Tomlin was a 4-3 guy during his days coaching on the defensive side of the ball in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Also a bit different, some blitz packages involving the defensive backs, like the one that brought Brandon Boykin charging up to deflect a pass from Vikings QB Mike Kafka.

How did the secondary look?

The Steelers secondary has been a source of concern after a lackluster 2014 season and the retirements of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, who had reached their expiration dates but were strong contributors nonetheless. Even with shift in personnel and injuries to Senquez Golson and Mike Mitchell, the performance of the secondary last night sent a clear message: There is no need for alarm.

Brandon Boykin hit the field for the Black & Gold looking dynamic, quick, and sharp. And, versatile, not only playing in the slot, but appearing comfortable elsewhere as well. The aforementioned deflected pass was only one of several plays that demonstrated why the Great Boykin Deal of 2015 was so favorable for the Steelers.

Younger players proved their worth with third-string CB B.W. Webb proving he can tackle, and Kevin Fogg generating a turnover by being in the right place at the right time-- and alert.  The double-consonant duo had few missteps or botched plays and provided hope for one of the most beleaguered units on the Steelers D.

Antwon Blake had several excellent tackles, but also missed a few.

Who met expectations and who didn't?

After Arthur Moats and Ryan Shazier demonstrated some incredibly poor tackling technique early in the game, Ryan Shazier regrouped and showed why he was worthy of a first-round selection.  Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons also had some flashes of brilliance. Timmons said after the game, "I felt like we're setting the tone of being a physical defense." At one point in the first half Timmons magicked himself across the field to make a huge play. Overall seemed fast and strong when he was in the game.

Compared to Jesse James' debut, Bud Dupree played phenomenally. By any other yardstick, he underwhelmed, appearing slow, lost, and young, failing do deliver on the pass rush the Steelers hoped he'd bring to the field. Dupree is a rookie and has time to develop, but as of now he does not seem like a plug-and-play player.

Shayon Green underwhelmed as well, often out of position. I got to know his number because he botched so many plays. Green seemed to struggle with tacling.  (Incidentally, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN-- who predicted A.J. Green as AFC North MVP- thought Green looked "amazing." I couldn't disagree more.