A few days ago, we heard Pittsburgh Steelers second-year safety Terrell Edmunds describe the defensive backs’ regular use of the JUGs machine as ‘mandatory’. It was somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not it was a liberal use of the term or if it had indeed been mandated through authority.
Teryl Austin made it rather unambiguous when he spoke to reporters recently, per The Fan. “That’s mandated by me”, he said, when asked about Edmunds’ remark. So there’s your answer. He said that his players can choose to take 15 to 20 reps before or after practice, but that’s the only say they have in the matter.
The Steelers had a near-historically low interception total in 2018, picking off just eight passes all season, an average of one per two games played. That is the lowest figure that they have had as a defense since 1940. They were still known as the Pittsburgh Pirates as of 1939. The defense faced only 192 pass attempts that season over 11 games (the offense threw 27 interceptions that year, by the way).
Austin was brought in for, among other things, to work hand-in-hand with defensive backs coach Tom Bradley to try to fix the secondary’s inability to intercept the ball, and they are taking it step by step while seeing progress.
“I think our guys are doing a good job of being in position to challenge”, he said. “When they’re doing things right, they’re usually in position to get their hands on some balls and challenge, so that’s the first thing I’m looking for”.
After understanding where to be, to put yourself into position to make plays, the next step is finishing them. This is where they struggled last season, as they dropped at least a dozen or more potential interceptions in 2018. By some accounts, they had the most dropped interceptions in the league.
“The next thing is that we’re going to try to finish every opportunity we get”, Austin said. “And then the last thing is we want to make sure that we clean up and don’t let any balls go over our head, because if we can limit those big plays and be able to still be aggressive at the ball and get our hands on balls and turn it over, we got a chance to really help our defense”.
The Steelers’ average starting field position of their own 26-yard line ranked 32nd in the league last season. Literally the worst in the entire NFL. And that has a lot to do with the fact that the defense was not giving the offense many short fields, though they did score some touchdowns.
Asked about having an expectation to be able to turn the ball over, Austin said, “absolutely. It’s part of our job. We’re not there just to knock the ball down or bat it up in the air. We want to try to catch it and turn it over, because those are big in terms of helping our offense and helping our team”.