When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Wisconsin nose tackle Keeanu Benton in the 2023 NFL Draft, they got a “goon.” At least that is what head coach Mike Tomlin wants Benton to be as a Steeler, as that is what he told Benton on the phone after he was drafted. But what is a goon?
On Wednesday, Mike Tomlin talked with Willie Colon and Mad Dog Radio and explained what a goon is.
“He [Willie Colon] could be characterized as a mean person on a football field, but always in control, always calculated, always smart,” Tomlin said. “And I think that’s the gist of what I’m talking about. We have to play with a certain collective demeanor, but we’ve also got to play and play the win, and that means not beating yourself. And so that means bringing a certain level of intellect to the physicality.
“And that’s something that Willie mastered. You guys know he’s a sharp guy, he conducts business with you guys every day and does it at a very high level. But to be able to do those things and play the game with a certain edge, with a certain demeanor is things that we covered.”
Benton playing with a mean streak yet smart would be perfect for the Steelers’ defensive line. The team needs a nasty nose tackle who can stop the run. If Benton can do that it improves this Pittsburgh team a ton.
The Steelers have struggled at nose tackle since Tyson Alualu went down with a season-ending injury in 2021, which resulted in the run defense being porous. It improved in 2022 but could still be better and that is one of the reasons for drafting Benton.
Tomlin is no stranger to wanting his defense to be “goons.” Before Week One last season he gifted the team Black Air Force 1 shoes. He wanted them to play with a nasty energy, as that is the meme with Black Air Force. The Steelers played one of their best games of the season, forcing five turnovers in a 23-20 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
If Benton can be smart, yet have a mean streak, he will help the Steelers have a shut-down run defense. And a shut-down run defense means teams will be forced to pass, which allows their playmakers to make plays. Pittsburgh’s success on defense next season doesn’t depend on Benton, but if he can be a “goon,” it will certainly help.