Even though the past two weeks may not have been his greatest endorsement in terms of his unit’s performance against the run defense, one could argue that defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, in his third season with the team, is so far one of the unsung heroes of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 8-0 first half for 2020.
Not only does he have his veterans, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, playing at a high level—the latter having a career year and perhaps finally angling toward his first Pro Bowl—he has also overseen the very successful transition of Tyson Alualu into the nose tackle role in filling Javon Hargrave’s shoes.
On top of that, over the past couple of weeks in particular, he has been tasked with getting a trio of young defensive linemen ready to play and contributing. While they haven’t been without their faults, all three of them—Henry Mondeaux, Isaiah Buggs, and rookie Carlos Davis—have all flashed quality, and the potential to contribute further if necessary.
That became a necessity with Alualu being sidelined for most of the past two games with a knee injury, while veteran Chris Wormley, in his first year with the team, has also been dinged up. The latter is currently on injured reserve. His ‘Paul Revere’, Heyward, recently gave Dunbar his due.
“I think Coach has just stayed consistent”, he said this past week. “I think sometimes coaches can get to a point where they feel like they have to reinvent the wheel for younger guys, but we’ve worked so hard during practice that when we plug guys in, and we can ask different things of them at different times, we don’t miss a beat. I think Coach Dunbar being able to change Buggs’ alignment in the middle of a game just shows that both Buggs is coachable, and then we’re able to implement that so fast”.
Dunbar has a history with the organization that many may not recognize or recall. For starters, as a lineman at LSU, his position coach was John Mitchell, who would go on to coach the Steelers’ defensive line for decades (he remains onboard as an assistant coach).
He even ended up literally being drafted by the Steelers in the eighth round back when they still had an eighth round in 1990, although he did not make the team. He would eventually see some professional snaps with the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals before transitioning into coaching in the late 90s.
That is when he would first cross paths with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, as they both joined the defensive coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings in 2006, Tomlin as the defensive coordinator and Dunbar as his defensive line coach. The former would of course get the head-coaching gig in Pittsburgh a year later, where he inherited Mitchell, only over a decade later to bring his former assistant coach, a former Steelers draft pick, and a Mitchell protégé into the fold, all in the form of one man.