There can be little doubt that there has been a changing of the guard on the defensive side of the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the course of this offseason, and I’m not talking about the retirement or release of a few veteran players that were visibly past their primes.
The biggest change on defense will be felt with the transition at the defensive coordinator position, from Dick LeBeau, known affectionately as Coach Dad, to Keith Butler, who has been the team’s long-serving linebackers coach under LeBeau.
It goes without saying that Butler will be bringing some of his own ideas to a core defensive philosophy already in place, but it could be that there are more changes taking place behind the scenes than might be realized.
Hierarchically, there is no longer a sense of reverence for the defensive coordinator position. This is no knock on how Butler will perform at the job, of course, but there is no denying that LeBeau brought with him a certain mystique that led to the attitude that his methods cannot be challenged.
As a Hall of Fame player and defensive innovator with over 50 years put into the game, it’s obvious how and why that developed, and continues to persist to this day, as we saw the Tennessee Titans add him to their coaching staff and place him above defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who has a long history with LeBeau himself.
That won’t be the case with Butler, whom head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges that the team as a whole, from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the players are still feeling out in his new role.
And were I to guess, I would imagine that with that new role comes a greater sense of collaboration within the coaching brain trust about what the Steelers would like to do on the defensive side of the ball, what with a green coordinator in their midst.
Tomlin, in particular, could see a bit more of a hands-on role, who prior to becoming the head coach of the Steelers also served as a defensive coordinator as well as a position coach for defensive backs, following a college career as a wide receiver.
It has been rumored at times that Tomlin indeed would like to get his hands a little dirtier when it comes to the finer points of the defense, and were there a time to start doing that, it would be now, with the transition to a new coordinator. And with three new defensive backs added through the draft.
But it won’t just be Tomlin who could stand to have his voice heard with a bit more authority this offseason. All of the position coaches may be relied upon more as Butler feels out his way in his new role and begins to carve out an identity for himself, and for the defense that he is now in charge of for the first time.