For years, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau built up a reputation of befuddling rookie quarterbacks with the complexity of his pressure packages, flummoxing young signal-callers into making foolish mistakes and producing costly turnovers as his defense took over a game. The win-loss record of his units against rookie quarterbacks speaks for itself.
Of course, LeBeau has come to be known for much more than that during the course of his 50-plus years spent in the National Football League. But it’s become an increasingly relevant component of his legacy down in Nashville.
Following the defensive coordinator resigning from his post with the Steelers and landing with the Tennessee Titans as an assistant head coach and coordinator of the defense over Ray Horton, his new organization used its position with the second overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft to select Marcus Mariota, whom they hope to mold into their franchise quarterback.
It will be up to LeBeau to set his defense against Mariota in a trial by fire to help get him ready for the trials that he will face from opposing defenses. Who better to prepare a rookie quarterback for the unexpected than the person perhaps most responsible for their woes over the course of the past decade-plus?
Of course, LeBeau commanded a Steelers defense that nearly gave away the game to a Titans rookie quarterback last season when Zach Mettenberger threw for two touchdowns, including an 80-yard touchdown to former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington just before halftime. But then again, his defense also jumped out to an early lead courtesy of a pick-six by William Gay.
Mariota is a different breed of quarterback, not quite fitting any previous mold that has been successful in the NFL before, so it will be interesting to see how the Heisman Trophy winner develops, and how LeBeau will be able to help him get set on his journey.
LeBeau has not had to worry about a young quarterback commanding his offense for quite some time, since, of course, Ben Roethlisberger’s early days. He has had the luxury of knowing that the other side of the ball for his team has been commanded by a trusted veteran, a true franchise quarterback.
Now, as he slowly nears the conclusion of his sixth decade in the league, he is being tasked with getting another rookie quarterback off on the right foot. He may not get the opportunity to battle-test Mariota in a game, but he will have every opportunity to welcome him to the big leagues in every practice from now to the start of the season.
How long he serves this role remains to be seen, considering that LeBeau has been operating under one-year contracts for several years now. No doubt he will be able to use his wealth of knowledge about attacking the quarterback to get Mariota prepared for his NFL journey this season, however, and he should certainly benefit from that.