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If OTAs are a sign of what’s to come, the Steelers’ defense will be taking the ball away in 2019

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense didn’t take the ball away as many time as they wanted in 2018, and their hyper focus on takeaways is paying off in the early stages of 2019.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Football in shorts.

That is what I keep telling myself as I read articles, pour over tweets and get as many nuggets of information out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs). However, like many of you reading this article, sometimes you just can’t help your excitement.

You read about the rookies getting acclimated, a budding star in the making or even a veteran who looks poised to get back to the big dance. All story lines fans cling to this time of year. But none of these sparked my interest more than reading about how Keith Butler’s defense has been taking the ball away more throughout OTAs.

I know, football in shorts. But interceptions are interceptions, in my opinion, and after last season’s 8 interceptions, everyone has been focusing on taking the ball away more in 2019. So far, it seems the hyper focus on this task is paying off.

You don’t think it matters? Try telling that to the players there participating in OTAs. This is the description of a recent Steelers practice, courtesy of Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A route jumped along the sideline for an interception, prompting a sideline full of gold-jerseyed defensive players to jump up, whoop and cheer.

Two practice-rep snaps later, a defender made a play on a ball, deflecting it up in the air, where Mike Hilton sprinted and dove to cradle it before it hit the ground.

Again, another raucous collective cheer from the defense.

Hilton and linebacker T.J. Watt confirmed this sequence of events took place midway through Wednesday’s Pittsburgh Steelers organized team activity session at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Think these players don’t care about getting in the habit of taking the football away? Even if it is just practice?

Think again.

“Every year turnovers is a big point of emphasis (but) especially after last year not getting that many, just leaving a lot of plays out there,” T.J. Watt told Adamski.

“We have to bring the excitement, bring the juice and bring the swag, because if you make a play in the NFL it’s very hard to do, so why not celebrate it? That stuff is contagious and it keeps the energy going throughout the whole practice and throughout the games.”

The players heard the noise last year when it came to their lack of turnovers. Sean Davis talked about his one interception not being enough, Joe Haden spoke about how having a better turnover ratio will only better the entire team and now Mike Hilton is looking back at the team’s failures of 2018.

“We really (stunk) at getting turnovers last year,” Hilton said, “so that was really something we are thriving on – lot of plays on the ball in OTAs. We want to find ways to carry that into the season.”

It may just be football in shorts, but the Steelers are taking the football away in OTAs. You never know, maybe this trend will continue into mandatory minicamp next week, training camp at the end of July and even into the regular season next fall.

We can only hope...