Teryl Austin is entering his second season working with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary since being hired in 2019 as a senior defensive assistant, and his impact on the team has likely been larger than first realized when he was hired. For one thing, he has become the spokesman for the secondary over Tom Bradley, who nominally remains the defensive backs coach.
A former defensive coordinator himself and longtime defensive backs coach at both the college and NFL levels, the Pittsburgh graduate and Sharon native has previously been credited as playing an integral role in helping to improve the team’s defensive communication by no less an authority than the team’s defensive coordinator, Keith Butler.
He spoke to reporters yesterday from training camp to discuss a number of topics, including, of course, his players in the secondary. At one point, he was asked about what similarities he’s seen in this group from the one he previously coached in Baltimore.
“I think the one thing that is very similar is both of those secondaries they are really good problem-solvers”, he said. “You don’t see a lot of the same mistakes happen twice. They are able to fix things during the course of a game. That is something that is really good to have as a coach because then you are not sitting there trying to fix everything. Those guys know when they made a mistake, they know what they did wrong and know how to fix it. They know when something is good and working and when to use it”.
Problem-solving comes in multiple phases, of course, both individual and collective. It’s one thing for individual players to identify their errors and proceed to work diligently to avoid repeating them. An elite group will be able to police itself as a unit to weed out problems and correct them without repeating them.
Naturally, this has direct ties to communication. You need to know how to communicate effectively within any kind of unit in order to avoid making mistakes, and that is one area in which the secondary improve last year, though as Steven Nelson also mentioned yesterday, there remains room for improvement.
That just comes from growing and working together, and that should be helped this year. Nelson was a new piece last year, and then Minkah Fitzpatrick was added in September. He and Terrell Edmunds are both still young and growing together.
The benefit of the wisdom of a veteran like Joe Haden, who has become a leader on the team and especially in the secondary, can’t be overlooked either. He’s starting out his second decade in the NFL now, and still playing at a high level while nurturing the younger players who have come in after him. This dynamic range is all a part of what makes a defensive backs group great.