Q&A: Dick LeBeau

It'll be Dick LeBeau vs. Bruce Arians tonight when the Steelers play the Indianapolis Colts in a preseason game at Heinz Field. LeBeau talked to Jim Wexell during a lull in practice Thursday as LeBeau was preparing for his 53rd NFL season.

Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: What kind of reflections do you have on this camp?

DL: We've got a couple good days left, but the guys have worked hard. It's been a good camp. There's been a lot of hitting for the times that we could get them in pads. I think Mike wanted to maximize that period of time and they responded well. I think we've gotten better. I think we're not where we need to be, but I think the camp has been a good camp.

Q: You seem to be in the nickel so often. Has it become your base?

DL: Well a lot of that is dictated by what the other guy does. The defense is definitely a stimulus-response situation. They call the play, they put the personnel out there, and we have to match them up. When they put three and four wide receivers out there we're going to put extra defensive backs out there and that's going to put us in the nickel. In Philadelphia, they were almost all three-wides there as the game went along and we had a little bit of a lead. So we did get a whole lot of nickel snaps, but I think that's good. We've got a young nickel that we're training and he got some good snaps, particularly in the first half. We're getting a lot of good nickel snaps up here against our offense. It's good. You can never get too much.

Q: Are you talking mainly about Steve McLendon and Cortez Allen when you say ‘young nickel'?

DL: Yeah, I'm talking about Cortez Allen. He's our nickel (cornerback).

Q: Let's stick with Cortez then. He hasn't received a chance to be the No. 1 corner on the left side. Do you like what you've seen out of Keenan Lewis?

DL: You just answered that question for me earlier in the conversation when you said you seem to be in so much nickel. All of those players are starting players in my mind, five and six deep in the secondary. I don't distinguish one from the other. They all have to be ready to go in there and play 45 or 50 snaps on a Sunday. Keenan Lewis is the starting left corner right now and Cortez Allen has done a good job over there. There's nothing written in stone right now, but as far as starting, the nickel players, the people on the nickel defense, they play as much as the Okie (base) now.

Q: After the front three, are you happy with your depth at cornerback?

DL: Well it's young depth. It's unknown depth. But I think they've had a good camp. We've got Curtis Brown and Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen; they were all young players last year. Of course we've got Ike (Taylor) back, so that gives us four guys with game experience, and some of the young corners are competing well. We lost Will Gay to Arizona. He was a veteran player that we need to replace. I feel good about these young guys. To a degree they're untested. We'll have to see how they hold up, but the good thing about it is they've all had quality snaps in the last football season. They have some game experience.

Q: Up front, you have more ability without Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. Do you want to take advantage of that mobility and go about it in a different way than normal?

DL: No, we run our package. We think mobility is built into our package. We don't think that – in the case of Casey or Aaron – they decreased our mobility at all. The line stunts within that parametered area, they were very quick and very strong and very good at it. The package is what it is. Now, I may call a little more stretched-out game where they've got to go a little bit further with a player that has a little more range, but in the case of Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton, I never worried about their range. They're very athletic for their size.

Q: Ziggy Hood says he's replaced 15 pounds of fat with 20 pounds of muscle. Is it showing?

DL: Yeah. I think Ziggy played very well last year actually, and I think all you're seeing is a regular maturation of a guy who was pretty talented coming out as a No. 1 draft choice. We're seeing the same type of growth in Cameron Heyward. I feel very good about those two young linemen, and Steve has done a great job for us of working in and growing stronger. John Mitchell just does a great job of bringing those young guys along. I think we'll be competitive in our defensive line. But I'll be glad when we get Casey back.

Q: With James Harrison hurting, are you worried about that blindside pass rush?

DL: I worry about all of our players when they're not out here with us. Until they are out here I will worry about them. I think the prognosis is good for James. I know how tough he is. I know if there's any way in hell he can be out here, he'll be out here. We're hoping for the best, and still we have to prepare for the realistic fact that he may be a little while. I don't think he will be, but he may be.

Q: Keith Butler told Larry Foote that Sean Spence is smarter than Foote was when he was young. But I remember you being a big advocate of Larry Foote years ago. How would you rank all of that?

DL: Keith's with him every day. I think Sean Spence's dad was a football coach. I think he's a bright young man, but Larry Foote's a very bright young man. He's a very intuitive player. He's right up there at the top in diagnosing plays and formations and stuff. If Spence can challenge him, I'll be happy with that.

Q: As far as the buck, since you've been an advocate of Foote I'm sure you feel good about that.

DL: I'm just an advocate of good play. I don't care who the player is. I'm looking for us to have a competitive defense with guys who want to play, play hard, fly to the ball and hit you, are smart and don't make mistakes, and are in good condition. That's a pretty good description of Larry Foote.

Q: How exotic have your nickel packages become? Have you added to it or just refined it?

DL: No, we've added. We're going to add every year. We're not going to run the same defenses. These guys understand the defense, the basic theme of the defense, and it doesn't take them long to adjust. That period we just had was really sharp. I liked that. We were right on the money. Defenses drawn up on paper are nothing. Players have got to make them come to life.

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