When it comes to bringing in veteran defensive backs this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a pretty clear theme, at least with regards to the ones that they actually signed. Both of them—cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and safety Daimion Stafford—played in defenses similar to the Steelers’, coached by a former Steelers defensive coordinator or defensive backs coach.
Both Sensabaugh and Stafford played under Dick LeBeau in Tennessee, and before him, Ray Horton. I would hope that I don’t need to remind anybody here who Dick LeBeau is, as his style of defense remains the template, with adjustments and tweaks, that the Steelers continue to run. But Horton was LeBeau’s long-time defensive backs coach before moving up the ranks to defensive coordinator.
So with the defensive backs that they brought in this year, their learning curve is comparably finite, which particularly bodes well for Sensabaugh, who has been here since March.
“I enjoy this defense, and I really like this team. It’s a great group of guys. They have welcomed me with open arms”, he told Chris Adamski during minicamp for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It’s not clear what exactly his role will be or where he will play—Adamski noted that he played both inside and outside this spring—but there will be time to sort that out.
And the innate familiarity with the scheme will help accelerate the process. He told Adamski, “I’ve been really familiar with this defense”, noting that “the terminology might be a little bit different, but for the most part it is the same thing I played in for a few years. So it’s just going back to those days and just re-plugging in”.
Sensabaugh spent his first four seasons up to last year with the Titans. His last two seasons saw him learn under Horton, with LeBeau joining the staff when the Steelers mutually parted ways with him in advance of the start of the 2015 season.
Because of his familiarity with the LeBeau/Horton defense, he also has a strong degree of familiarity with the Keith Butler/Mike Tomlin defense that has been taking shape over the course of the past three offseasons.
“There’s zone, you got man, you got trap, you got Cover Zero”, he said. The veteran defensive back described it as “a very raw defense that keeps offenses guessing. “With Dick LeBeau”, he noted, “he’s been coaching probably since 1890. So it’s been working for a long time”.
There are certainly those who would object to that premise, but never the less, the Steelers are hoping to improve their coverage success through a variety of avenues, starting with boosting the talent level of the secondary and of the pass rushers, with rush and coverage going hand in hand.
But they are also hoping to become a more versatile coverage team by employing a wide variety of coverage looks that they can introduce based on what the opposing offense is showing. Time will tell with regards to how much of that change we see in the on-field product.