For the first time in his career as he heads into his eighth season, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward has a new position coach for 2018 in Karl Dunbar. Coming over from the college ranks after spending two seasons with Alabama, the veteran defensive line coach also has a long coaching history in the NFL.
But he is replacing a fixture on the Steelers’ coaching staff, with John Mitchell having been with the team almost going back to Chuck Noll’s final years in the early 1990s. Mitchell, yet another former Alabama defensive line coach, served in that role for Pittsburgh from 1994 up until this season as he transitions into a new role.
And it’s a transition for everybody involved, Heyward said as the longest-tenured lineman on the team. Though Dunbar has some Steelers connections (he was coached by Mitchell in college, drafted by the Steelers, and coached under Mike Tomlin for one season in 2006), it’s still a new experience to have him in as an instructor.
Heyward was asked about what it was like to go from Mitchell to Dunbar as his position coach, saying that it was “a little different. I still see Mitch around. But I’m feeling him out, he’s feeling me out. I’m just trying to buy in”.
As the veteran mentioned, Mitchell is still around. He has been an assistant head coach since Tomlin took over in 2007, but he has transitioned to that post now full-time, and his duties these days are said to be entirely administrative (though I find it hard to believe he doesn’t stick his nose in here and there when it comes to coaching).
Though Dunbar took some influence from what he learned under Mitchell in college, his own coaching style has been informed by his broad history of experiences, coaching both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. He has his own language for things, with Heyward noting that “he’s got some different terminology”.
He also noted that Dunbar is making the transition back to the NFL from working at the college level, which will require some readjustment, even if he already has extensive and proven experience working among professionals. “Were trying to make [the transition[ as easy as possible”, he said. “We’re picking each other’s brains and trying to get on the same page”.
Such a comment about getting on the same page should not be too disturbing at this time of year, of course. We’re just entered training camp, and there is only so much that can be accomplished during the spring—even from an access standpoint, because, remember, coaching access to players is limited.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Dunbar and follow newcomer Tom Bradley might impact the defense this season in terms of potential changes to how they play. This is the most extensive recalibration on the coaching side that the team has had in a while.