At the conclusion of Wednesday’s OTA session, Steelers.com reporter Teresa Varley spoke with CB Levi Wallace in the locker room, gauging his first couple days on the field in terms of getting his feet wet in a new system with new teammates and defensive coaching staff. While Wallace recognizes that Austin’s system does have its notable differences compared to his previous system under the watchful eyes of HC Sean McDermott and DC Leslie Frazier in Buffalo, he acknowledges that he is up for the challenge.
“It’s just a little different,” Wallace said when asked about what makes Austin’s defense so unique. “I think it’s just different and unique for me because I just came from a whole different system and so, just learning it and seeing the ins and outs and how I can be successful in the defense. When I go out there and make my opportunities and just asking questions, you know, and just seeing how he sees it through his eyes, you know, giving me the best chance.”
When Varley asked about Austin’s prowess as a teacher, Wallace made sure to confirm that statement, giving credit where credit is due to Austin an his ability to properly coach and instruct his players.
“Absolutely, he breaks it down.” Wallace responded regarding Austin as a teacher. “His door is always open for me and for the rest of the guys too. So, it’s easy to communicate with him and ask him, you know, what could I have done better here? And he could give the truthful answer, you know, it’s same with the rest of the coaches, even Coach [Grady] Brown.”
As Wallace mentioned above, he will be transitioning from a zone-heavy defensive system in Buffalo to more man coverage concepts in Pittsburgh. We have seen this trend of increased man coverage looks from Pittsburgh increase in recent seasons with capable players on the outside like Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Ahkello Witherspoon. Last season, Pittsburgh started out more zone-heavy given the losses of Nelson and Mike Hilton in the secondary, but particularly increased the amount of man coverage looks down the stretch.
Wallace does his best work off in zone coverage, allowing his instincts and aggressiveness to drive on the football once thrown to make plays. This also allows him to cover up some of his physical limitations he has as an athlete as broken down here in a film room detailing Wallace’s game shortly after his signing during free agency.
Still, Wallace is a heady, reliable player that provides Pittsburgh with a stable presence on the outside at cornerback. Wallace needs to get more comfortable battling bigger, more physical receivers on the outside in man coverage, especially if isolated on an island more often in Pittsburgh than he was in Buffalo while keeping a lid on things overtop. However, given his knack for picking up coverages and the emphasis on communication on the backend, we should expect him to pick up the defense relatively quickly and become a key cog in the secondary for Pittsburgh by the start of the 2022 campaign.