DC search: LBs guru comes with track record

In Part 4 of our series, see which linebackers coach turned an undrafted free agent into the top defender in the NFL and has played a key role in a team's always-strong run defense.

Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams, Jim Haslett, Romeo Crennel, Rod Marinelli. Those five all have experience as NFL defensive coordinators and head coaches.

Today, Packer Report introduces you to some of the position coaches who could be darkhorse candidates in Green Bay to replace the ousted Bob Sanders. We continue with our fourth assistant, Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler.

If you want to know the coaching acumen of the 52-year-old Butler — the second-leading tackler in Seattle Seahawks history — consider the case of the NFL's defensive player of the year, James Harrison.

Harrison, an undrafted free agent in 2002, spent most of his first two NFL seasons on the Steelers' practice squad. After a cup of coffee in Baltimore, Harrison landed back in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2004 training camp and made the final roster.

Harrison continued to grow under the tutelage of Butler, who was named Bill Cowher's linebackers coach in 2003. In 2007, the Steelers released three-time Pro Bowler Joey Porter and gave Harrison a chance at the starting lineup.

And did he deliver. Under first-year head coach Mike Tomlin — who retained Butler as linebackers coach — Harrison was voted team MVP, Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro after piling up 8.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

This year, Harrison was named the league's defensive player of the year after ranking fourth in the NFL with 16 sacks and first with seven forced fumbles. He finished second on the team in tackles and intercepted a pass.

Butler's linebackers are a main reason why the Steelers' ferocious 3-4 defense has had such sustained success during the five-year tenure of their coordinator, zone-blitz guru Dick LeBeau.

In 2008, the Steelers yielded a league-low 13.9 points per game. They ranked second in the NFL against the run and first in 20-plus-yard runs (four). Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 28 sacks, tops among NFL linebacking tandems.

In 2007, the Steelers ranked second in the league in scoring defense (16.8) and third against the run.

In 2006, the Steelers ranked third in the NFL against the run and 11th in scoring (19.7).

In 2005, when Pittsburgh emerged from the wild-card round to win the Super Bowl, the Steelers ranked third in scoring defense (16.1) and against the run. Porter and Clark Haggans led NFL linebacking duos with 19.5 sacks.

In 2004, when Pittsburgh finished 15-1 but lost in the AFC title game to New England, the Steelers led the league in scoring defense (15.7) and against the run.

Those yearly rushing rankings would make Butler an intriguing choice in Green Bay. This season, the Packers ranked 26th against the run (131.6 per game and 4.6 yards per carry, compared to 80.2 per game and 3.3 per carry by Pittsburgh), and yielded 15 runs of 20 yards or longer and four runs of 40 yards or longer. In the last five seasons combined, the Steelers have allowed 31 runs of 20 yards or longer and just two runs of 40 yards or longer.

Plus, led by Harrison and Woodley, the Steelers tallied 51 sacks this season compared to 27 for the Packers. Over the last five years, Pittsburgh has averaged 42.8 sacks. Green Bay topped that number just once, with 46 sacks in 2006.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.

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