Most teams around the league have for many years employed multiple coaches designated specifically to work with the defensive backs, regardless of what their titles might be. Some teams would divide duties between cornerbacks and safeties, others would take different approaches. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been late to the party, but have finally taken a seat at the table earlier this offseason.
Following the hiring of Tom Bradley last year—taking over for the resigning Carnell Lake—Pittsburgh also went out and brought in Teryl Austin to serve as a senior defensive assistant with an emphasis on the secondary.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin has already specified that their duties and responsibilities would not be divided by position—that it would not be one taking the cornerbacks and the other taking the safeties—but it wasn’t until OTAs kicked off that we would really get an image of how the pair would work. A couple of defensive backs talked about it recently.
“It’s two different voices but both of them are trying to get that same (message) to us and same techniques to us”, Mike Hilton told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s a good thing for us, and it’s going to help us in the long run”.
Which of course makes you wonder why they haven’t done it much sooner. Meanwhile, the Steelers have actually contracted a couple of their coaching positions in the past year. When Randy Fichtner was promoted to offensive coordinator, he retained his duties as quarterbacks coach. After Joey Porter’s contract was not renewed, defensive coordinator Keith Butler was told he would take over working with the outside linebackers.
With the Steelers playing more defensive backs than they ever have before—the dime defense became their most frequently used defensive package last season—it makes sense that they would look to add another coach. After all, they have long had an assistant for the offensive line coach, who deals with a similar number of players on the field at the same time.
No defensive back has been in their system longer than safety Jordan Dangerfield, even though he is technically entering his third season by accrued years. He said that both Bradley and Austin are “football geniuses” and that they “bring a lot to the table” while having their own way of going about things.
“Learning from them each day”, he said, “they’re smart, so you’ve got to listen and bring it onto the field. I think we’re all on the same page right now, which is a good thing with communication”.
That’s couldn’t be any more true. Some of the Steelers’ worst defensive plays in the past several years have been simply due to miscommunication. It’s better for the entire defense to be on the same wrong page together than to be on different pages from one another, so that communication is vital.