The Pittsburgh Steelers have turned over their coaching staff quite a bit over the course of the past two offseasons, replacing or moving their offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, running backs coach, offensive line coach, defensive line coach, outside linebackers coach, and defensive backs coach. For good measure, they even added a new position, a defensive assistant whose specialty will be a focus on the secondary—reportedly, the safeties specifically.
That would be Teryl Austin, the Pittsburgh graduate who most recently was the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator last season. He held the same post with the Detroit Lions for several years before that.
Now he has been brought in to work with Tom Bradley, a very seasoned coach at the college level, but who experienced coaching at the professional level for the very first time in 2018. Best known for his long stay in a number of different positions at Penn State, the Steelers now have two ‘local’ guys tasked with rebuilding the secondary.
Said Mike Hilton of Bradley’s first season with the team, “it was fun. Coach Bradley, this was his first year here with us, so he had to get adjusted just to how to coach us, and we had to get adjusted to how he coaches, so DBs as a whole, we really learned each other and really got comfortable with each other and got confident in each other. It starts with the coach, and as the players we follow the lead”.
During the year, starting right outside cornerback Artie Burns was demoted within three games and benched within seven. Free agent acquisition Morgan Burnett was supposed to start at strong safety, but injuries kept him out of the lineup long enough for rookie Terrell Edmunds to take the job from him. in addition to all that, Sean Davis was making the transition from strong safety to free safety.
So there was an awful lot on Bradley’s plate, even without regard for the fact that he was coaching not just on a new team, but also in an entirely new league, at a level that he had never before experienced, and working with a different type of player.
I don’t know that the decision to add a secondary assistant had anything to do with what Mike Tomlin and others might have observed in watching Bradley work, though I suppose it’s not impossible that they saw he could use some help in bridging the gap between working with amateurs for decades and working with professionals for the first time. Something Austin has done for most of the past decade and a half.
The Steelers are looking for a big jump from the secondary in 2019, and that falls largely on Bradley, who was given a new starting cornerback in free agency in the form of Steven Nelson. With their starting lineup apparently set, the only thing left to do is go to work.