The Pittsburgh Steelers might have an awfully young secondary right now, for the most part, but they’ve worked over the course of the past year to balance that youth with some veteran experience. They brought in former Pro Bowler Joe Haden in August just before the season a year ago, for one. In the offseason, they signed ninth-year safety Morgan Burnett, one of the few players on the roster who knows what it feels like to win a Super Bowl.
Burnett is expected to replace Mike Mitchell in the starting lineup, who was released back in March at least in part as a cap-saving move, since the veteran was owed a base salary of $5 million and the Steelers could not afford that. Whether or not he plays free safety is less clear.
But he does appear to be acclimating himself well to his new teammates, both on and off the field. For example, second-year cornerback Mike Hilton has come away impressed with Burnett’s on-field work during the first couple of weeks of OTAs, saying that he has been able to be an impactful player.
“Mo’s a veteran, he’s been around”, Hilton said. “He’s really caught onto the scheme and been making a lot of plays these early OTAs. Having him back there, a guy that’s been around and knows the game, that’s going to help our young secondary”.
Burnett does have some experience with the Green Bay Packers that could have helped him adapt quicker to the broader structure of the Steelers’ defense. Former Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers until recently held that position there, and Darren Perry, a former Steelers safety and defensive backs coach, was there for a time as well.
But neither are currently in Pittsburgh. the defense is run by defensive coordinator Keith Butler, entering his fourth season at that position. And their defensive backs coach is making his NFL debut, even though he has had a long and accomplished career at the college level.
Hilton wasn’t really asked to make comparisons between Tom Bradley and their former defensive backs coach, Carnell Lake, but the second-year cornerback was quick with the praise of his new coach, saying that “it’s great” to work with him. And I’m quite confident this will be used by readers as further prove not only that Lake was a terrible coach but that he was forced out.
“He’s a real technically sound guy”, Hilton said of Bradley. “He wants everything done this way. Just a technique guy. If your technique is A1 you can make a lot of plays”.
Hilton’s technique was pretty sound last season. He did not allow a touchdown all year, though there was some good fortune involved in that. Not only did he have a solid season in coverage, he was also a strong defender against the run and an effective blitzer.