When Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Line coach Karl Dunbar speaks, I tend to listen. The man is arguably the best defensive line coach in the NFL.
Being a position coach in the NFL often gives you a certain level of anonymity. It's kind of a best of both worlds situation, meaning you get the dream scenario of coaching at the highest level, but rarely get recognized when out in public with the family. All of the fame, but none of the fuss.
On the flipside, being a position coach in the NFL may just be the most underrated and underappreciated position in the coaching hierarchy. Everybody knows the head coach, whether the situation be good or bad. The offensive and defensive coordinators are next in line for notoriety.
A position coach is usually only noticed if his group's results are extreme, in one way or the other. Everybody remembers Mike Munchak, but will never forget Adrian Klemm either. I bet most fans would struggle to remember the offensive line coach between those two gentlemen, or to name the man who currently holds the position, without looking it up.
Karl Dunbar has been extremely successful at his craft, everywhere he has been, for quite awhile now. So when he states, like he did in a recent interview, that he envisions Montravius Adams competing for the starting nose tackle position in 2022, I take notice. Dunbar is a hard-nosed coach, and a man of few words, not prone to hyperbole.
At first, I struggled with the idea, finding it highly unlikely. But then I remembered.
Stranger things do, and have, happened.
A funny story comes to mind. The setting was a blazing hot day at training camp in Latrobe for the Steelers. A few of Steelers legend Casey Hampton's teammates were ribbing him about rookie first round pick Ziggy Hood's feats of strength exhibited in the weight room. Hampton apparently wasn't too impressed with the youngster's accomplishments. He said something along the lines of "That's nice, but I have grown man strength."
There's so much truth in that statement. There's a huge difference in weight room strength, and functional playing strength. It usually only takes the younger players a few games to figure out the difference.
For a defensive lineman, especially a 3-4 nose tackle, it's in the ability to anchor. It's one thing to be able to squat an obscene amount of stationary weight while lifting, versus not giving precious ground against 600+ pounds of double team hitting you from both sides. In any 3-4 defense, the latter ability is crucial.
Especially if you are attempting to run with two undersized inside linebackers, as the Steelers apparently intend to do once again this season. The results were disastrous last season, by any stretch of the imagination. Totally unacceptable, and can in no way be repeated.
Karl Dunbar did an admirable job with what he had to work with last season. At least half the blame for the Steelers league worst run defense; it still hurts to type that, falls at the feet of the Steelers uninspired and extremely passive inside linebackers. I will leave it at that, as my thoughts are well known on the subject.
Dunbar helped turn Isaiahh Loudermilk, a huge project, into the second best run defender on the line. He helped Chris Wormley develop into a serviceable starter on occasion, out of necessity. Plus, he quickly got the aforementioned newcomer Adams up to speed when he arrived midseason. Adams was able to contribute immediately and to show enough potential for the Steelers to resign him in the offseason. He is now firmly entrenched in the Steelers plans for improvement this season.
I surmised in a recent article the possibility, if not probability, of the Steelers starting Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, and Loudermilk across the defensive line. I assessed that trio would put the Steelers best run stuffing unit on the field to begin each contest. Then they could utilize the pass rush prowess of Wormley, Adams, and Ogunjobi on later downs as part of the rotation.
Apparently Coach Dunbar has other ideas in mind.
I admire Dunbar's confidence and faith in Adams to not only get the job done, but at a starting level. He sees the immense talent and potential in the young man. However, Adams performs more like a young Javon Hargrave than a young Tyson Alualu. The main difference is in the ability to anchor.
Javon Hargrave was always a 4-3 tackle trapped in a 3-4 scheme. It wasn't an ideal fit. Hargrave was a penetrator, looking to explode through seams and slip double teams. He regularly made plays in the backfield due to his quick twitch ability. That is a perfect comparison for Adams.
On the other hand, Alualu is the classic nose tackle, able to absorb and anchor against double teams. That's why I naturally assumed that Alualu would be the more logical option. Especially with the run and chase abilities of Myles Jack and Devin Bush, the two inside backers entrusted to patrol the middle of the defense.
Dunbar appears to be suggesting that the Steelers might be considering a return of the penetrating, disruptive nose tackle. Gravedigger style.
I sure would feel more comfortable with that possibility if the Steelers had a more physical tandem of interior linebackers.
That being said, I am more than confident that Coach Dunbar will have all his troops ready for action.