It’s probably not the best feeling in the world after your team cuts you and then your former defensive coordinator talks about how important it is to have a strong and efficient tackling presence at your position. Sorry, Mike Mitchell. But the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to get exactly that out of new starting safety Morgan Burnett, a ninth-year veteran from the Green Bay Packers.
Keith Butler has been with the Steelers for a long time. He may have only been their defensive coordinator for the past few seasons, but he spent about a decade prior to that working as the linebackers coach under Dick LeBeau, from whom he learned a great deal.
One of the things that he recently stressed was how important the tackling is from the safety position. “Any time we’ve had the best defense in the league, we’ve always had safeties that could tackle, that were real good tacklers”, he told reporters during the spring, via the team’s website.
“We have to be able to do that from the safety position, because he’s usually the last guy. He’s got to either make the tackle or force (the ball-carrier) into a position where we can run him down. We have to tackle well”.
Tackling well was one thing that the Steelers decidedly did not do last season, though when referring specifically to tackling attempts that were missed, Sean Davis was the far bigger culprit of the two. The third-year safety also got himself into a lot more tackling opportunities than did Mitchell, however, and in fact led the team in tackles.
When opting to bet on one or the other, however, the obvious choice would seem to be the young starter rather than the one going into his 10th season, on the ‘wrong’ side of 30, and with perennial injury issues.
At the end of the day, the whos and hows and whys don’t really matter. What matters is simply getting better results than they did last season. Of the many different issues that the Steelers had with their defense last season, missed tackles was right up there with any of them, and the safety position was among the top offenders.
As Butler talked about, the Steelers during their most recent championship window had great tackling at the safety positions from the likes of Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Chris Hope. But they were also great tackling teams overall, consistently ranking among the best teams in the NFL in tackling efficiency.
That story has changed dramatically over the course of the past eight years, unfortunately, and it’s no coincidence that no players remain from that era of the defense. The players who have replaced that era may have talent of their own, but efficient tackling in most cases is not among them, something that is frankly an issue league-wide.