As someone who coached defense for almost his entire career prior to being named head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s no surprise to hear how much influence Mike Tomlin has over the defense. Cam Heyward confirmed as much when he joined The Pat McAfee Show Wednesday morning.
“On the field, off the field, Mike T loves talking defense,” Heyward told the show. “I know he’s the head coach but he has his fingerprints all over this defense. That’s one thing about having a defensive-minded coach. He knows where everyone is supposed to be lined up. When you’re not lined up or you do poorly, he’s going to let you know because he’s a defensive-minded coach.”
It’s been clear Tomlin has had a growing influence on the defense since Dick LeBeau was no longer the team’s defensive coordinator. Head to a training camp practice and you’ll see Tomlin spend plenty of time with the defense, even once going over Cover 2 technique with the CBs a few years ago.
Every Friday, Tomlin has his version of a Bill Walsh “finding the winning edge” meeting with the defense. The topic can vary from week-to-week but Tomlin has a big focus on the defense. The NFL is full of offensive-minded talent. Those are the guys who get hired. Young, bright, offensive gurus. Tomlin’s expertise comes from the other side of things, though his playing days as a receiver certainly helped him understand secondary play and how defenses attack route combinations.
Over the years, there’s been a growing conversation around who actually calls the plays of the Pittsburgh defense. It’s still believed to be Keith Butler – most of the time, anyway – but Tomlin’s impact there has almost certainly increased, too.
Having a defensive-minded coach has led to the team investing in their defense as much as any organization in football. Pittsburgh has effectively used their first round pick on a defensive player for the last eight years; seven of them were drafted in the first round while Minkah Fitzpatrick was traded for a first round pick. Add in free agency signings of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson and the Steelers have one of the top defenses in football. A defense that will have to lead the charge in order for Pittsburgh to make a serious postseason run.