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Steelers hope focus on ‘little’ things this offseason will equate in big things during the season

Football in shorts is no fun, but the Steelers are making the most of their opportunities.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The main memory most fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers have of their favorite team is them getting run over by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Playoffs last year at Heinz Field. While many fans will say this was just one game and the media has overblown the loss, the Steelers’ defense had issues all season long — despite their overall rank and record-setting sack performance.

The Steelers seemed to lack focus, struggled with communications and overall discipline was missing.

This isn’t breaking news, and don’t think for a second the Steelers, and their coaching staff, don’t know it. In fact, throughout the three weeks of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), the team has been focusing on little things which they hope will pay big dividends when the pads are put on, and the games start to count.

“There’s not much you can do football-wise without equipment, but you can get your footwork right, your hand placement right,” safety Morgan Burnett told Sean Gentille of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Footwork, and other physical aspects of an individual’s game, can certainly be improved upon during these sessions which have been labeled as “football in shorts” by head coach Mike Tomlin. But there are other areas to improve on too — like communication.

After a collision between Mike Hilton and Artie Burns during one of the workouts, the two realized they have to do better in communicating.

“Get ’em done now so they don’t cost you later in the season,” Hilton said afterward.

So, who’s to blame for the gaffe?

“Both of us,” Hilton said. “Neither of us said anything and you saw the result.”

Regardless of the individual issues players are working through, Hilton is confident in this new group of defenders donning the black-and-gold.

“We got a lot of guys coming in, a lot of guys playing different positions, but we’re all confident in each other,” Hilton said. “[Burnett] has been great since he’s got up here. He’s made a lot of plays for us. Cam’s a versatile guy we like to use. So everybody’s done a lot of great things.”

So, what should fans expect from the Steelers’ secondary in 2018?

“A lot of DBs on the field. A lot of speed on the field. It’s something we’re gonna use, and [we] feel like it’s really gonna help our defense.”

Hilton would go on to tell Gentille how 60-65-percent of the playbook is already in place, and the team hasn’t touched their dime defense yet throughout their offseason work. Many are wondering, could fans see seven defensive backs on the field at one point or another in 2018?

“It’s possible. It’s possible because we’ve got guys that can play inside linebacker like Terrell Edmunds, [rookie safety] Marcus Allen, guys like that, big guys that can run,” he said. “[Burnett] also, he’s a guy that’s versatile. You put him in the post and he’s rangy and can go sideline-to-sideline, so he can do a lot of things.”

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with a ton of on-field talk. After all, the players haven’t even worn shoulder pads yet this offseason. Nonetheless, those “little” things the team is talking about can absolutely be huge this season.

“As long as you communicate, and I feel like football is a game where you have to communicate and talk to one another. Pre-snap, during the snap and post-snap, you always have to stay [in] consistent communication,” Burnett said. “I feel like that will clean things up, as well. But that’s why you’re on the professional level — you gotta be prepared and ready to do whatever’s asked of you.”

Better to get these things ironed out before the pads go on...