It is July, which means football is right around the corner. July 27th the Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe, PA for another training camp. Although we still have a few weeks of the “dog days” of the NFL offseason, it doesn’t mean there isn’t news to still be discussed.
We take you around the world wide web to give you your daily dose of black and gold, along with making BTSC your one-stop-shop for all things Steelers.
Taking part in practice with a fourth NFL team over an 18-month span, Coty Sensabaugh could be excused if there was some confusion.
But far from having his head spinning at the Steelers' defensive concepts, Sensabaugh feels right at home and comfortable in the scheme.
“I've been really familiar with this defense,” the veteran cornerback said after an organized team activity session earlier this month. “The terminology might be a little bit different, but for the most part it is the same thing I played in for a few years. So it's just going back to those days and just re-plugging in.”
Sensabaugh played two of the past three seasons in defensive schemes administered under two former longtime Steelers defensive coaches. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the fourth round in 2012 and stayed there through 2015, spending the last two seasons with former Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton as his defensive coordinator. In 2015, ex-Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau joined the Tennessee staff.
Current Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was a disciple of LeBeau's for more than a decade, his successor-in-waiting for almost that long. So even though Sensabaugh had a nomadic 2016 — playing for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants — he's back in a defense that comes naturally to him.
“There's zone, you got man, you got trap, you got Cover Zero's ... it's a very raw defense that keeps offenses guessing,” Sensabaugh said. “With Dick LeBeau, he's been coaching probably since 1890. So it's been working for a long time.
“I enjoy this defense, and I really like this team. It's a great group of guys. They have welcomed me with open arms.”
The Steelers defense needed an adjustment, and coach Mike Tomlin and coordinator Keith Butler knew it before the end of last season.
But after rebuilding with three rookies, it was too late to change, and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots made the Steelers pay for playing too much zone defense in a 36-17 loss in the AFC championship game.
“We knew at the end of last year we needed to develop more than just spot drop (into coverage) and play zone,” Butler said Wednesday after the first of two practices on the second day of minicamp. “We knew that going into the end of the season, but, hey, we felt like that was the best opportunity that we had to try to get to the Super Bowl.
“We did what we felt like we had to do against (the Patriots) with where our defense was at at the time.”
After an offseason of retrospection, the Steelers are planning to mix up their defense with more man-to-man coverage — the kind former cornerback Ike Taylor loved to play on the way to three Super Bowls — with the hope the pass rush will be good enough to allow it.
“It's going to help on both sides of the ball if we play a little bit more man,” Butler said. “Our guys can get used to it. Ben (Roethlisberger) can get used to looking at it. Hopefully, we'll get better from it.”
It starts with a four-man pass rush — linemen Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave and a linebacker to be named — and depends on defensive backs with the skills and attitude to match up one-on-one against wide receivers.
“Coverage and pressure go together,” Butler said. “They always do. We've got to be able to develop a four-man rush and not just blitz all the time.”
Second-year cornerback Artie Burns said he will play whatever defense Butler calls, but he prefers man-to-man.
“Most definitely, I prefer to play that,” he said. “You get a chance to get your hands on the receivers. You get to slow them down. These guys nowadays are fast.”
The retooling of the Steelers defense starts with the expected — and necessary — improvement of 2016 draft picks Burns, Hargrave and safety Sean Davis, all of whom were starters last season. Davis has been slowed this spring by a shoulder injury. Butler hopes this year's rookies, especially outside linebacker T.J. Watt and cornerback Cam Sutton, and free-agent additions such as cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and defensive end Tyson Alualu, pick up the system quick enough to help.
“If they do, hopefully, we'll improve enough to get to that next step,” Butler said.
Veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who has proven again and again that the tank still isn’t empty, tried his hand (or maybe I should say his face) at wrestling over the weekend. It could have gone horribly wrong for him.
Williams, participating in something called Slammiversary XV, capped the tag-team match by climbing to the top rope and jumping from the turnbuckle. Unlike old-school wrestling, where guys like the late Randy Savage would simply land on a waiting opponent in the middle of the ring, DeAngelo’s target was laying atop a folding table.
So Williams hit the body on the table with his torso, and his head went past the table and slammed onto the mat. Williams literally could have broken his neck.
“This is what happens when it’s real and people think it’s fake,” Williams said on Twitter, posting the video of the climb, jump, landing, and eventual pin. “But the money is real.”
As much as I hated hearing it from my dad when I was a kid, much of wrestling is fake. The outcome has been determined before the match begins, and the punching (which used to accompany a loud stomp that supplied the sound of the blow) and kicking doesn’t have nearly the impact that it would in the alley behind a bar.
But the stunts are real, and the risk of serious injury is always present. While it’s unclear how Williams was supposed to properly land when jumping onto a large human laying a flimsy portable table, it’s safe to assume he wasn’t supposed to take a header onto the mat.
So, yes, the danger is real. Perhaps even more real than it is in the NFL, which could still come calling for Williams once injuries to other tailbacks inevitably occur.