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Steelers defense getting back to random chaos on third downs

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is known for mixing up looks on third downs, sending any odd combination of players after the quarterback. He has the right mix of athleticism running those packages now, and Bills guard Kraig Urbik sees it.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Steelers had 2009 third round pick Kraig Urbik in camp just one year. He landed in Buffalo after being released by Pittsburgh and has held down a starting position along their interior offensive line since then.

He was there long enough to know the characteristics of the Steelers' defense. And he's played against them in the regular season often enough to be able to speak intelligently on the subject. That's why it's credible to read about him giving some insight into what he saw in two days of practice against Pittsburgh.

"It's the typical Steeler defense," Urbik told reporters Thursday. "They were all over the place."

The variation and versatility the Steelers utilize on defense hasn't exactly gone away over three years of below average amounts of sacks and turnovers. But there's a clear difference in terms of personnel running those schemes.

It used to be a bad thing. It's no longer Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel up front. Heading into the team's second preseason game, Saturday vs. the Bills, it'll likely be Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Quicker than big, but perhaps as purely athletic as a group as the line the Steelers used by and large to win three AFC Championship games in the 2000s.

The linebackers don't have the consistently proven edge rush ability they had from James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in their primes, but the inside linebackers have a boost of athleticism, considering the depth provided by the stalwart, Lawrence Timmons, and three young do-ers in Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence and Vince WIlliams.

The kind of variable looks Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can create with these players far exceeds what he could do in the past, regardless of intention. He told AP reporter Will Graves youth isn't he issue, it's recognition of role.

"We have been short in that area, but I don't think youth has anything to do with (the lack of splash plays," he said. "I'll take youth any day if they go the right direction."

That direction, in 2014, will be straight into the backfield.