Whenever coaches talk about the secondary, whether it’s brought up organically or a reporter broaches the subject, rare is it that they talk about Tom Bradley. It’s almost always exclusively about Teryl Austin, who officially functions in the capacity of Senior Defensive Assistant with a specialty toward the defensive backs.
Formally, Bradley remains the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backs coach; however, it’s been apparent since they’ve taken the practice field that it’s Austin who more or less runs the show. And since he’s the new guy, and they’re playing at another level this year, he’s going to get the credit anyway, being the variable.
Even though they’ve added two new premium talents to the secondary in Steven Nelson, who has been very good in coverage at right outside cornerback, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, whose Wins Above Replacement has to be awful high as their starting free safety over a 6-3 record, which includes two defensive touchdowns.
Keith Butler was asked about Austin’s role in helping the secondary get more turnovers. “I think he’s done a good job”, he said, via transcript. “As secondary coach, he’s done a great job with our secondary. Our secondary – we’ve got some pretty darn good players – and I’ll say this, I’ve never seen a good
coach without good players. We got some good players at the first of the year”.
He does, then, acknowledge the major upgrades in the secondary helping to provide that difference. After all, Fitzpatrick has five interceptions himself, so it’s hard to avoid that conversation. Butler called him “a real big get for us. It took him a couple of weeks to get used to the defense that we’re playing and they’re all starting to play together a little better together”.
“The biggest thing for us is getting the communication right and being on the same page”, he added, “and if they do that than we’ll end up being pretty good. T.A. has done a good job of getting them there”.
since the third game of the season, the Steelers have had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, which coincides with Fitzpatrick being brought in, but it was also a period of time in which the unit, with new pieces in the mix, was able to settle down and gel.
Position coaches are arguably the hardest role from which to judge impact, and that’s especially the case when their first season also coincides with significant personnel turnover, but one thing is clear, and that is the secondary is playing much better in Austin’s first season working with them.