Making Run Defense A ‘Point Of Emphasis’ Helping Steelers Clean Up Issues, According to Larry Ogunjobi

The struggles — if it’s safe to even call them that — for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the run defensively in 2021 have been well-documented. Without the likes of Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt up front, and poor play from Joe Schobert and Devin Bush in the middle, led directly to the Steelers allowing a franchise record amount of yardage on the ground last season, finishing No. 32 overall against the run.

Throughout the offseason the Steelers attempted to fix those issues, signing veteran linebacker Myles Jack, drafting defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, and later adding veteran defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi into the fold, not to mention the return of Alualu from injury, and the second-year jumps in the system from Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk.

Despite the amount of moves made to try and shore up that area of the defense, the Steelers — playing without their starting defensive linemen Saturday in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium — again struggled to stop the run, allowing the Seahawks to rush for 159 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.

After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t happy with the run defense, and that unhappiness carried over into Monday’s practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, as the Steelers were in full pads once again and drilled run fits and overall run defense throughout the day. That’s largely due to the Steelers putting a significant emphasis on correcting that issue, according to Ogunjobi, who will play a key role opposite Cam Heyward and Alualu in helping fix those run defense issues for the Steelers.

“Obviously they had the things that happened last season, but I feel like the biggest thing is we make it a big point of emphasis,” Ogunjobi said to reporters Wednesday from Latrobe, according to video via “You know, we do team run every day when we’re in pads and stuff like that. So really trying to make it a point of emphasis, really build on that and have a better run defense this year, I think, is the biggest thing.”

The Steelers certainly have made it a point of emphasis in training camp to date, but the early returns in the game against the Seahawks weren’t promising, to say the least. As Tomlin said, the Steelers weren’t strong enough in that department on Saturday, which is concerning, especially considering how much time and focus has been placed on correcting the issues that persisted last season.

The real test for the run defense and its improvements (or not) will come once the full first-team defense is on the field. If the Steelers aren’t able to consistently stop the run when fully healthy and on the field, it will be time to panic again. For now, though, it’s important to remember — even if Tomlin won’t acknowledge it as an excuse — that the defensive line on the field Saturday likely won’t be seeing much time when the games count, aside from Chris Wormley.

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