Recently, we profiled Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Matt Conrath’s path to the Steel City. I was able to reach out to him personally to touch on some of those story lines and turn attention to what he’s been doing in Pittsburgh since signing a futures contract in January. Check out the profile here and then read through the interview below.
Many thanks to Matt and his agent Noel LaMontagne for their time to schedule the interview.
Q: Are you happy being back in a 3-4 scheme? Is that where you are more comfortable?
A: I think it was a great learning experience. I played both in college. I was in the 3-4 in Virginia for three years and then the last two I was in a 4-3. Being in St. Louis the last three years, we had a really good defensive line there. I think it’s good to know both schemes and I think I can bring hopefully some of the get off stuff to the 3-4 and I guess, transition back.
Q: Take me through the transition of switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 while you were at Virginia. How much did that affect you and how big of an adjustment was it?
It was an adjustment. I was finally picking [the 3-4] up and starting to understanding the scheme. I think that’s one of the biggest things in the 3-4. Understanding what they can’t run against the defense, what you take away from them. So I was finally getting that and then, coaching changes happen, and just had to adjust. There was an adjustment period my junior year. That’s when I was figuring out how to get off of the pack more. And then my last year there, I think I kind of picked it back up. Had a year to learn the system and figured stuff out and had a better season.
Q: Is it fair to say you were a bit miscast in a 4-3?
A: I mean, yes, I probably would have been best for a 3-4. But coming out, I think I had a really good shot to make the team in St. Louis. It was an all new coaching staff, they brought all new guys in. And I got to learn from a really good coach, Mike Waufle, who likes bigger guys. I think the DTs we had, I was the tallest, but we had 6’5, 6’6 guys playing the one and the three technique. I really learned I had to stay low, use my levers, my long arms, and I learned the hard way a couple times, rising up. You learn quick.
Q: What did the team tell you, if anything, about their expectations for you when you signed?
A: Just coming in and compete. They didn’t tell me a whole lot. I just knew I had an opportunity here and this is where I wanted to be. I was just lucky enough they offered me a one year deal here. And I got to prove myself going into camp.
Q: Did you have other teams aside from Pittsburgh who were interested in signing you? If so, what made you decide to come here?
A: I had probably three or four teams who were interested. It was just somewhere that has great tradition. And somewhere where I really wanted to make a name for myself and help out the team. Just compete.
Q: What has it been like working under John Mitchell? What kind of coach is he?
A: It’s been great. He’s been around great defensive lines. He knows what he’s talking about. Like I said, I had a great 4-3 coach in Mike Waufle and now to come to a 3-4 and have a great coach like him. It’s great to learn from guys like that.
Q: Have you been playing left and right defensive end or just one side?
A: I’ve been playing the left defensive end so far.
Q: Do you think you’ll be asked to play on the right side in camp?
A; I’ll do whatever they ask me come camp. It’s whatever they want, I’m here to do it.
Q: I know you can’t compare Keith Butler to Dick LeBeau, but what have you seen from Butler in the spring? How does he command this defense and defensive line?
A: I feel like they’re all about doing your job. It might not be the most glamorous thing in the world but if everyone gets their job done, that’s when we’re going to have a great defense. It’s just understanding your role and how you fit in the system and how you can help the team.
Q: Working with Butler, have you gotten that feeling that it is going to be more of a one-gap, penetrating defensive line?
A: It’s definitely not what I was doing at Virginia where it was the traditional two-gap and read and everything. There are still plays where we are still reading and two-gapping but he’s doing a good job of sprinkling stuff in and we’ll just see what happens.
Q: Have any of the younger players stuck out to you during the spring?
A: [Stephon] Tuitt is one of the guys. He was a young guy last year. I feel like he’s taken this offseason and the spring practices and really grown a lot. He’s really starting to understand what to do. Big Dan [McCullers] is just, massive. When he gets going, I don’t feel like there’s an offensive lineman who can block him.
Conrath came off as a humble guy and someone I expect to make a serious push for the 53 man roster, putting him on there in my original prediction several weeks ago.
As Cameron Heyward and Butler himself have touched on, Conrath’s words continue to paint a picture of the Steelers continuing to distance themselves from the traditional two-gap mold.
The left end spot would be the immediate backup to Stephon Tuitt, who played over 92% of his rookie snaps on that side. Though we can’t say for sure, it sounds like Clifton Geathers is at RE, Heyward’s backup. Anticipate whoever claims the 3rd DE spot to be asked to play both ways.