Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. A genuine compliment to an individual or idea, even if it is often times unintended.
The NFL landscape is a living testament of this old adage. With the 2018 NFL Draft fast approaching, it is impossible to watch any pre-draft programming, or prospect interviews, without being reminded of this fact.
Countless young men about to embark on their professional football journeys enthusiastically recall how they patterned their playing style after their childhood football hero or role model.
Team executives will spill out of NFL war rooms on draft day and confess their desire to emulate another franchise who presumably is ahead of the curve when it comes to team building and cultivating a winning atmosphere within an organization. The Arizona Cardinals (aka Pittsburgh Steelers West) immediately come to mind as they are always picking up former Steeler players and coaches in a thinly veiled attempt to build their franchise in the image of a franchise they greatly admire. There have definitely been worse ideas.
What the Cardinals apparently have failed to realize is there is no great secret to the Steelers ‘success. It is the result of the Rooney family’s influence and values; such as hard work, honor, and personal integrity. It can not be stolen like KFC’s secret recipe, only emulated.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have attempted to rebuild their secondary in recent drafts by committing multiple early round selections to the backend of their defense. This was necessitated by the careers of longtime stalwarts Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Ryan Clark coming to an end. The Steelers may finally be ready to reap the fruits of their labor.
They appear to be following the same blueprint they previously used to rebuild their offensive line.
They abandoned the failed Carnell Lake experiment, who turned out to be a far superior player than coach, and brought in former PSU defensive back coach Tom Bradley. The rumor mill was swirling with reports that the team was considering hiring former Steeler great Rod Woodson, but those unconfirmed reports never came to fruition. I believe hiring Tom Bradley was the correct decision as he has been reported to be a strong teacher and tactician, which is just what this young secondary needs at the moment.
Sounds a lot like when the Steelers hired Mike Munchak to take over as offensive line coach. The hiring was met with little fanfare but received positive reactions throughout the NFL community.
What a difference hiring the right man for the job can make.
The Steelers are hoping that Bradley’s hiring will produce similar results.
The cupboard is hardly bare. The Steelers secondary is filled with talented individuals who, for whatever reason, have failed to completely mesh as a unit. They haven’t achieved the desired results their collective talents would presume possible. They are a mixture of proven veterans and young players yet to realize their potential.
The recent free agent acquisition of safety Morgan Burnett will undoubtably improve the units tackling ability and help resolve many of their communication issues. He, along with Joe Haden, bring a stabilizing veteran presence to the secondary. He will team with Davis to form a safety tandem which will basically be interchangeable on the backend of the defense.
This is a reoccurring theme when evaluating the individual talents of the players at Tom Bradley’s disposal. Many of the players possess positional flexibility which will enhance Bradley’s creativity when designing his sub packages and assist in disguising his coverage schemes.
Burnett and Davis both represent the new breed of hybrid safety which is becoming common around the league. In an effort to reduce mismatches across the field in response to modern day offenses specifically designed to create them, safeties are being asked to not only cover like a cornerback but tackle like a linebacker. This also helps limit the number of necessary substitutions which can become difficult against no huddle or hurry up offenses. Cameron Sutton has also displayed this positional versatility in the past.
Bradley inherits an intriguing project in cornerback Brian Allen. Allen remains a raw prospect which makes sense seeing he is relatively new to the position after starting his college career as a wide receiver. His impressive measurables and smooth athleticism was on full display during the preseason and during his productive special teams performance throughout the regular season, so much so the team never dared attempt to sneak him on the practice squad at any point.
The Steelers are sure to provide Bradley with additional talent to work with during the 2018 NFL Draft later this month. They have shown interest in a number of intriguing prospects leading up to the draft; such as rangy cover safety Jessie Bates from Wake Forest and safety/linebacker hybrid Kyzir White out of WVU. Both players would be welcomed additions if available.
Soon the draft will be over, the dust will settle, and Tom Bradley can finally get to the task at hand. All he needs to do is channel his inner Mike Munchak and follow the blueprint that has been laid out before him. He must utilize his impressive teaching abilities and communication skills to transform this talented group of individuals into a well coached fighting machine.
Tom Bradley may turn out to be just what the doctor ordered to turn the Steelers secondary around.