When the Pittsburgh Steelers first brought Teryl Austin on as part of the coaching staff with the title Senior Defensive Assistant/Defensive Backs, there was some initial speculation indicating that the team planned to divide the coaching responsibilities between himself and Tom Bradley, their defensive backs coach, splitting up the cornerbacks and safeties.
Back during the annual league meeting, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said that that would not be the case, and that instead they will work together with the whole group collectively, outside of the occasional on-field drill work that would see them divided.
“By drill or by moment” they might work with one group or another, Tomlin said, “but collectively, no. We want to have the flexibility of breaking the group down in a variety of ways because sometimes circumstances dictate it”.
Sometimes six defensive backs on the field are three corners and three safeties, sometimes six defensive backs on the field are four corners and two safeties”, he added. “Sometimes five defensive backs mean there are three safeties and two corners or three corners and two safeties. We’re going to coach them all collectively and break up that teaching on a case-by-case basis, a lot of times based on the circumstances of the drills in which we got a lot of focus”.
Bradley is in his second season not just with the Steelers but at the NFL level, despite the fact that he has a long history of coaching at the collegiate level, where he spent the bulk of his career at Penn State. He succeeded Carnell Lake as the defensive backs coach in 2018, the latter resigning in order to spend more time with his family. Lake had been the defensive backs coach since 2011.
Austin, in the meantime, also has a long coaching history that spans both the collegiate and professional levels. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Penn State in 1991 and 1992, during which Bradley was on the staff as outside linebacker and special teams coach.
With the exception of the 2010 season, however, Austin has been at the NFL level since 2003, and has been a defensive coordinator since 2014 until he was fired mid-season a year ago. Both local products, Tomlin is hoping that they will work well together in complementary fashion.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Scrap (Tom Bradley) and TA”, he said. “We look forward to watching them. The interesting thing about them is they have a shared history that goes back a long, long time. I think TA was Scrap’s graduate assistant like 30-35 years ago. You see that in how they interact in an office-like setting when they’re talking schematics and ball. It’s made the transition of Teryl into the group a more fluid one”.
Now the task at hand is to construct a fluid secondary, that will include Steven Nelson as a new starting cornerback and Terrell Edmunds entering his second season as the starting strong safety after being drafted in the first round a year ago.