As we sit back and enjoy the buildup to the 2015 season opener between the New England Patriots and our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, there are several storylines that need attention paid to them as we divulge and dissect the preseason games. One of which is the running game and how it’ll look minus the All-Pro talents of Le’Veon Bell. With his knee reportedly still not fully 100 percent, it’s HIGHLY unlikely Mike Tomlin dresses his young stud for any preseason action. It brings to mind the Chargers of the 2000s whenever future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson would never suit up for any exhibition games, as he meant that much to the team. The same of which can be said of Bell.
Another footnote to keep track of is the cohesion of a secondary perceived by many as the missing link on a championship-caliber squad. With grey-haired veterans like Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu riding off into the sunset of retirement, it left the team no choice but to go to the draft to channel in some youth, which came in the forms of corners Senquez Golson and Doran Grant. Each brings unique ball skills and physicality to the table, respectively, but is it asking too much too soon to expect major contributions in year one?
At Monday’s practice, Tomlin reportedly put the defensive backs through a gauntlet in teaching them the technique needed to play some Cover-2, an inkling of possible things to come this season as the team looks to do whatever is necessary to shore up the back end.
“We’re going to build this but we’re not going to build it all today,” Tomlin told Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter.
His words make it clear this isn’t a radical shift but a gradual one.
The year following the departure of defensive guru Dick LeBeau figures to have plenty of changes or wrinkles added and one could include this coverage instead of what we’re used to seeing, the three-deep. “You better wear multiple hats when you do my job and I embrace that,” Tomlin told Lolley.
The Cover-2 certainly is no stranger to Pittsburgh as it’s the coverage they ran during the dynasty teams that collected Super Bowls in bunches during the 70s. In today’s NFL, it’s commonly called the Tampa-2, in large thanks to Tony Dungy, who was a backup safety for those great Steelers’ teams before eventually becoming their defensive coordinator for several seasons in the 80s. Coincidentally enough, when he became head coach of Tampa Bay, he gave none other than Tomlin his first NFL coaching gig.
The type of defense doesn’t need corners the caliber of a Darrelle Revis or a Patrick Peterson with All-pro cover skills, but it does require the linebackers to be adequate in coverage. “We’ve got to be able to cover,” Lawrence Timmons said, according to Lolley. “All of the tight ends now are 4.4, 4.5 guys. We’ve got to be able to run.”
Some members of the roster already have a wealth of experience in that defense, including veteran safety Will Allen, a draft pick of the Buccaneers back in 2004 when Tomlin was there. In fact, it was Allen along with coaching intern and former Super Bowl MVP safety Dexter Jackson, who were showing the corners the tendencies of the defense at practice Monday.
“We’ve always run it as a mixup,” Allen said, according to Lolley. “We’ve always kind of run it, even with LeBeau, but it depends on how much more we want to do with it. You have to work on certain techniques and things, like we do with all of our coverages.”
Before jumping the gun and claiming this Steelers’ defense is headed towards a full-blown shift to a 4-3 Cover-2, it’s apparent they’re intent on getting more looks out of their base 3-4, the most obvious one being using some Cover-2 on the back end to help cover up what was statistically one of the worst pass defenses in 2014.