The Pittsburgh Steelers came into this offseason feeling as though changes need to be made at the safety position, both schematically and financially. They shed about $10 million worth of salary cap space combined by releasing Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, and, later, J.J. Wilcox.
A good chunk of that money went right back into investing in the safety position, which included bringing in a new starter via free agency. Morgan Burnett had been a starter for the Green Bay Packers for eight seasons, going back to their defeat of the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Burnett was never a big splash playmaker for Green Bay, but he was a steady and dynamic presence, and his former teammates have expressed sadness over his leaving, feeling that he will be missed on the field.
The Steelers are hoping that he won’t miss a beat for them because of the similarities to their own defense that they are running under Keith Butler compared to what he was used to running with the Packers.
“I’m comfortable with” the defense, Burnett told reporters during minicamp. “It’s a similar scheme to what I’ve been running my eight years that I was in Green Bay, so it’s familiar. Now I’m just learning the terminology, putting it together, and getting used to working with my teammates.
During his entire eight-year career, Dom Capers was the Packers’ defensive coordinator, who as you may know served in that same post with the Steelers, under whom Dick LeBeau coached. Pittsburgh under Butler still runs a modified version of the defense that LeBeau and Capers developed.
Not only that, his position coach was Darren Perry for that entire run as well. An eighth-round pick by the Steelers in 1992, Perry was a largely unheralded ballhawk playing with Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake, intercepting 35 passes during his career (which is, by the way, more than Troy Polamalu recorded by three).
Perry also spent the 2003 through 2006 seasons on the Steelers’ coaching staff under LeBeau before joining the Oakland Raiders for two seasons and then ultimately following Capers, who was his defensive coordinator as a player with Pittsburgh, to Green Bay, where they remained from 2009 up through the 2017 season.
Given the circumstances, it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise if Burnett, naturally a pretty bright football player in his own right, feels as though he already has a pretty solid handle of the Steelers’ defense.
Sure, there will always be some things that are different, that have to be transferred over into a new processing language, but the point remains that he may have less of a transition to make than most free agents, since the Steelers’ and Packers’ defenses under which he will play and has played are more similar to each other than most.