Anybody who’s seen a candid moment or two from Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin knows that his vocabulary will change a bit depending on the setting. Others may be shocked to know that professional athletes and others in the spotlight will censor themselves when they know their comments will be out there.
That led to a funny little exchange at the end of the draft when Tomlin was asked about something second-round defensive lineman Keeanu Benton said Tomlin told him. “The main thing I had taken away from that was that he wants goons out there and he wants somebody to come out there who’s not afraid to get their nose dirty”, he said.
“That’s an accurate description, but I’ll give him some media training so he can keep some of our private conversations private”, Tomlin responded with a bit of a laugh when asked about the comment during his post-draft press conference, via the team’s website.
But of course any good defensive line is going to need its ‘goons’. That doesn’t mean that you play dirty, but rather that you do the dirty work, you play a physical game—and maybe you engage in some light intimidation. You certainly don’t want opposing linemen to look forward to going up against you.
That’s something that hasn’t as easily been said of the Steelers’ front seven in recent years, but there’s been a clear trend in an attempt to reverse that. They have certainly added physicality, really at every level, on the defensive side of the ball through a variety of means. Think of a linebacker like Elandon Roberts or a safety like Keanu Neal.
Add Benton to the middle of the defense with Roberts and Neal lining up behind him and this is a much different-presenting unit from even a year ago. The Steelers didn’t have that same level of physicality from the likes of Montravius Adams, Devin Bush or Myles Jack in the middle, or even, to a lesser extent, Terrell Edmunds at safety—not consistently anyway.
You can probably describe a lot of the players the Steelers added this offseason as ‘goons’ at their position one way or another, who would have no problem going to extra mile to finish a play at his opponent’s expense, including a couple of the Georgia Bulldogs that they just drafted, as well as free agents like Breiden Fehoko and Nate Herbig.
It’s a game of ‘bully ball’, as we talked about here yesterday. Drafting Benton is just one move that is indicative of a pattern of behavior for the Steelers this offseason as they are looking to tweak their identity moving forward—not just on defense, but on offense as well. At one point during the middle of the season, even offensive coordinator Matt Canada admitted he didn’t know what their identity was.
Now they have something to rally behind, to focus on, to strengthen, to fall back on. And it’s always a good baseline in a game like this. Physically dominate the men across from you and you’re still going to win a lot of football games, whether it’s 1923 or 2023.