The Pittsburgh Steelers are not an organization that is known for making changes, but they have done just that over the course of the past two offseasons. We have seen an uncommon amount of turnover in personnel on the coaching staff during that period, having elected to move on from their offensive coordinator, outside linebackers coach, and running backs coach, with others resigning or moving into a new role.
The one that moved into a new role was John Mitchell, the longest-tenured coach in the entire organization, who spent a very long time as the defensive line coach. As of 2018, however, his responsibilities became entirely off the field as assistant head coach under Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin replaced him with the same man who coached his linemen when he was defensive coordinator in Minnesota, that being Karl Dunbar. Dunbar, who was actually coached by Mitchell in college, and was drafted by the Steelers, obviously bore some similarities, but he also brought changes along with him, which took some adjusting to, as Stephon Tuitt acknowledged in a sit-down interview with Missi Matthews for the Steelers’ website.
“We had a different coach, we had to have the ability to understand that aspect and everything, but at the same time, understanding each other player-wise and the way we do things”, he said of the changes from 2017 to 2018 going from Mitchell to Dunbar, the first change along the defensive line in this millennium.
“The new formations that we had, defensively set up, with different positions for other people and getting a chance to learn that chemistry” is something that they had to work on over the course of the season.
And frankly, I feel as though they scaled back some of the changes as the season progressed to get Tuitt and Cameron Heyward into more comfortable roles in which they were more effective. Early on, they seemed to be playing a more traditional pass-rushing responsibility aimed more at helping others get through than penetrating themselves.
While things may have started slow, however, the group finished strong, which all three of their starting linemen finishing with at least five sacks. All three of them were in the top five in sacks on the team, with Heyward’ eight leading the way, followed by six and a half from Javon Hargrave and five and a half from Tuitt.
There are always some growing pains when changes are made, especially when they change comes following a long period of stability. Mitchell was among the longest-tenured coaches at any one position. The line was only taught one way for so long.
So I think it’s reasonable to expect improvement and more consistency from the defensive line as they head into their second season under Dunbar. The question is who will be backing up their starters, as all three of them are pending unrestricted free agents.