The Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff has largely remained intact this offseason with two notable losses. First was assistant Blaine Stewart who went to the college game, the new tight ends coach at West Virginia. The next loss was the biggest, defensive assistant Brian Flores hired by the Minnesota Vikings as their new defensive coordinator. Though everyone knew Flores’ time in Pittsburgh would be short-term, a bridge in a city full of them, Cam Heyward acknowledged the impact it’ll have on the team.
Joining 93.7 The Fan Wednesday with Joe Starkey and Ron Cook, Heyward discussed seeing Flores leave.
“I think there’s a football intelligence there that like not a lot of people understand,” Heyward told the show. “I brought Kenny on my podcast not even realizing this was gonna happen. Kenny talks about we’re doing two minute drill and he’s losing a bunch, which is good for both sides. And then he’s telling me that B-Flo is giving him advice. B-Flo is telling you what Brady would do. He’s telling you what they used to run. And so just that little bit of wisdom right there kind of helped Kenny in those moments.”
As Heyward notes, Flores didn’t just help the defensive side of the ball. Good coaches like him know and understand how offenses think and how they try to attack you. And he was able to impart that situational football wisdom on Pickett. It’s a major point of emphasis for the Steelers who run two-minute drills almost every day in training camp. On Heyward’s Not Just Football Podcast, Pickett shared the story of the advice Flores gave him.
“I would talk to him after every single one and he’s like, ‘You’re going to need that once chunk play and after you get that chunk play you can just take what they give you down into the red zone then you got to make that big time throw to score.’”
Advice Pickett put into practice late in the season with a pair of critical game-winning drives against the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. Pickett found his chunk play in the latter by hitting Steven Sims down the seam for a 24-yard gain and then chipping his way downfield before hitting Najee Harris for the game-winning score in the final seconds. It was a similar story versus the Raiders, a ton of underneath throws but one scramble drill to Pat Freiermuth for 17 yards and then drilled George Pickens over the middle for the 14-yard score. They were clear signs of the quarterback Pickett is capable of being and driving reasons why the Steelers are confidently rolling with him as their starter for 2023.
For Heyward, Flores impacted every part of the Steelers’ defense, providing additional insight into how opposing offenses thought and operated.
“We’re learning different ways of how they blitz, what they’re looking for, how they handle slides and different things. And so it was just so much energy and intelligence put into that.”
It’s not clear if the Steelers will replace Flores’ role or not. Jerry Olsavsky had served as the team’s inside linebackers coach for years before Flores was hired and still worked in that capacity in 2022, meaning he could seamlessly switch back to being the sole coach there. Or the team could look for more outside help if the right name came along. It’s also worth noting Flores helped serve as another set of eyes for Mike Tomlin on gameday, assisting with challenge calls and clock management, so Tomlin may want a former head coach or someone who has come close to being hired before, just as Teryl Austin was when he occupied that role before becoming defensive coordinator.
Flores has been regarded as a bright defensive mind. A drill sergeant who didn’t have the most bubbly personality but a strong coach who makes his units better. He’ll now make Minnesota better and in his absence, Pittsburgh a little worse.