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Keith Butler talks about the state of the Steelers defense after the 2021 NFL Draft

The Steelers defensive coordinator had to wait until Day 3 to get some new players on defense, but he still thinks his unit will be really good.

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost players, and two of the biggest holes which need to be filled are on the defensive side of the football. After the loss of Bud Dupree in free agency to the Tennessee Titans, Mike Hilton signing with the Cincinnati Bengals and Steven Nelson being a cap casualty, you have to wonder what the plan could be on the defensive side of the ball.

Fortunately for us, the fans, when the Steelers draft a player they have the position coach answer questions in front of the media. When the Steelers selected Quincy Roche out of Miami in the 6th Round, a pass rusher, his position coach had to answer questions. It just turns out the position coach is also defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

When you look at the transcripts from Butler’s media availability, he ended up answering questions not just about Roche, but about the entire defense. Everything from the depth at outside linebacker to the expectations of rookies.

A question which I’m sure was on many minds during the draft was how the Steelers took offensive players with their first four picks. Butler explained what it was like waiting to address defense until the second pick of the 4th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I know this and I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve been fortunate enough to coach in three Super Bowls, and I think in all three of those Super Bowls we had a good running game. So I’m not going to gripe and complain about us picking Najee in the 1st round and staying on offense the first day or two.” Butler said. “That doesn’t bother me because the best defense to me is always sitting on the sideline watching your offense run the football.

“We’ve got to get a better rushing attack and I understand that. The head coach is doing what he thinks is best and so is Kevin [Colbert]. They’re doing what they think is best for this team and I agree with them, even if we might not get a pick ‘til later on. I’m for that. I’m for us being a good football team. I’m not for us just being great at defense. I’m for winning football and trying to win the Super Bowl.”

Butler was asked specifically about players who were selected, not just Roche. Here is what he had to say about inside linebacker Buddy Johnson, who was drafted in the 4th Round out of Texas A&M.

“I like him [Buddy Johnson]. I think he’s going to be a good player for us. Very quick. He moves good. He’s going to come in and help you with depth, but he’s also got to come in and help you with special teams. If you draft a linebacker, inside or outside, he has to contribute to the special teams and make the special teams good in order for him to buy time for him to make the team and work toward to becoming a starter in the National Football League.” Butler continued, “You don’t get that time to do all of that stuff as a linebacker in the National Football League unless you show that you are valuable to the team. How do you do that? You play good special teams and that’s a big part of what we emphasize here. They’ve got to play good special for us and I’m sure we’re going to ask him to do the same thing, but we’re going to be alright I think with what we’ve got. The thing that we can hopefully get and see what’s back there in the 7th round is covering some more needs.”

When Butler was asked about Roche, he talked about the former Temple, turned Miami Hurricane, and what he can bring to the Steelers defense, not just in 2021, but beyond.

“We’ve led the league in sacks the last four years, I believe. So this kid is very good at rushing the passer. He does a good job at what we call long arming people, pushing people with the inside hand past the quarterback and make the play. He does a great job of that, and that shows up. So do numbers of sacks mean something? Yeah, they mean something, but there are other parts of the game that he has to pay attention to, and we as coaches got to do a good job of teaching him what to do within the framework of the defense we’re trying to run.”

If you are like many fans, you are wondering if the Steelers are expected to rely on Roche as a player who can step in and spell Alex Highsmith and/or T.J. Watt if necessary. Butler warns you might want to pump the brakes on those lofty expectations.

“Well, we’ll see. We aren’t finished with our free agency and stuff like that. We’ve got four guys that we know of. Where does Quincy fit in that situation? We’ll have to wait and see what we do in training camp, how everybody’s doing in training camp.” Butler added. “Obviously Alex Highsmith filled in pretty well for us last year. Everybody knows about T.J. [Watt]. He’s solid. I think we’ll be okay at that position, but again, it’s a lot of stuff we just have to wait and see when we get to training camp and see how we develop in those situations.

“Well it was a little bit of a surprise him being there. We rated him around the late 3rd, early 4th, all the way into the 5th round, but like I said, we had different people on our board at the time that might have been rated a little bit higher and so we took the highest rated guy. It might not necessarily be what you need or what you want. Sometimes you take a position and hope you can get another position later in the draft. I’m sure Kevin has talked about the and Mike has talked about that. So for us, we had several needs on defense, we got to them. We’re still in need of a couple positions here and there, but we’ll see what happens.”

Speaking of the Steelers’ outside linebacker depth, outside of Roche, the only proven depth is in Cassius Marsh, and some might argue about him being labeled as “proven”. Nonetheless, Butler sees Marsh helping out with a full offseason under his belt.

“There’s still some things he’s got to learn in our defense. He picked it up pretty well last year, and we were glad to have him because we needed him for depth last year when Bud [Dupree] got hurt it really kind of put us in a bind in terms of the outside linebacker position. We didn’t ask Cassius to do a lot in terms of coverage. When he comes back, we’ve got to try and get him in position where he’s comfortable in what we’re going to ask him to do. The only way to get comfortable in what we ask him to do is to do it. So we’re going to try and teach him what we like to do with the outside linebackers, but he’s still got a good knack for rushing the passer and playing the run, so he’s got his foot forward on that one. The only thing we’ve got to do is teach him what we try to do trying to use these guys for pass coverage.”

Maybe the most confusing, and questionable, decisions made was when the Steelers traded up into the 5th Round to take Isaiahh Loudermilk out of Wisconsin. The ongoing question among the fan base has been, “Why?! What do they see in him?”

Butler answered that question.

“I like Loudermilk because he reminds me a little bit of a young Cam Heyward. He’s surely not as developed as Cam was. Cam came out of college and we drafted him with a high pick. He helped us quite a bit, but he still had a lot to learn. Cam will be a good tutor to this guy. I think Loudermilk would do well to get in that crowd with Cam and the rest of our defensive line and learn a lot from them. And [Karl] Dunbar does a great job with them. He does a great job in terms of teaching them to rush the passer, what their technique is in the running game. What are they doing in double teams, what are they doing in slip blocks, all that stuff he does a great job of coaching them. I’m not worried about that. I know he is going to develop and Karl will do a good job of developing them.”

There are still questions remaining with the Steelers’ defense, and whether they address them via free agency has yet to be determined. In the meantime, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.