Defensive staff has work to do

PITTSBURGH - It's time to see just how good the Steelers defensive coaches are.<br><br> With the addition of a safety the team needs to start, and two players who are very raw at the positions the Steelers are projecting them to play, the defensive coaching staff will need to work overtime.

Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis is on the spot as the team handed him its top three picks in safety Troy Polamalu, outside linebacker Alonzo Jackson, and cornerback Ike Taylor. Getting Polamalu ready to play now is the priority for what was the league's 20th-rated pass defense in 2002. But turning Jackson, a college defensive end, into a linebacker, and polishing the skills of Taylor, who played cornerback for just one season in college, will also be important for this team.

The Steelers should have plenty of defensive backfield coaches to work with Polamalu and Jackson. Lewis is the team's former defensive backfield coach and is considered a possible head coaching candidate in the NFL. Current defensive backfield coach Willy Robinson is highly thought of by the organization. And newly-hired assistant defensive backfield coach Darren Perry knows their defense like the back of his hand after spending seven seasons as a starter here in the ‘90s.

Heck, if you throw head coach Bill Cowher into the equation - Cowher was a secondary coach for Cleveland in 1987 and 1988 - and the Steelers should have plenty of people to get Polamalu ready to play right away.

And that's a good thing because there's no doubt the Steelers' pass defense was the team's downfall in 2002. In eight of the team's 16 regular season games, the defense allowed 250 or more passing yards. In its two playoffs games, it allowed 409 and 331 passing yards.

It was obvious the Steelers needed an influx of talent and/or youth in their secondary.

They tried to acquire experienced talent when they pursued Tampa Bay free agent safety Dexter Jackson. But Jackson took more money to sign with the Arizona Cardinals and the Steelers were left with the draft to add some much-needed speed to its secondary.

Polamalu and Taylor, both of whom can cover 40 yards in less time than it will take you to read this sentence, will do just that. "It's always nice to sprinkle some youth in like we've done," said Robinson.

You can expect that Perry was added to the team's staff earlier this year to tutor whatever young safety the team brought in during the draft. While the Steelers may say they don't feel the need for Polamalu to start right away, their recent history with No. 1 draft picks would seem to say something different.

Their last six first round picks have all become starters early in their rookie seasons. And those were guys the Steelers didn't give up three draft picks to move up and get.

Cowher said Mike Logan will be listed as first on the team's depth chart at strong safety when the team begins training camp in July. But with Logan coming off of knee surgery, Polamalu should get all of the snaps at strong safety and should be ready to play when the season starts.

"I don't think we put ourselves in a situation, even in this situation, where a guy has to step in right away," said Cowher. But when you give up half your draft to get a guy, he had better start right away.

If not, you made a big mistake moving up to get him, or your coaching staff isn't doing its job.

Dale Lolley

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