Bring On Johnny Football

Dick LeBeau expects Johnny Manziel to QB the Cleveland Browns in the opener. His defense will be ready for anything.

LATROBE – If the Cleveland Browns open the season with Johnny Manziel at quarterback, Dick LeBeau will have his defense ready for him.

And if Manziel goes up-tempo, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator believes his unit will be ready for that, too.

“Well we better be ready,” LeBeau said of up-tempo offenses in general during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday.

“Nobody huddles in football, not even in high school football. We’ve been working on it from Day One in the coaching sessions, so it’s not going to be something they’re not comfortable with. But we’ll have to prove that we can execute and handle it, because you’re going to get it. You’re going to get it week-in and week-out.”

LeBeau believes his team is built for it, now, after spending the last few off-seasons acquiring talent at the linebacker and safety positions, where the Steelers have hybrid types who can stay on the field and defend either the pass or run with equal skill.

Mike Mitchell is one example of those recent additions. So is Ryan Shazier. And the depth chart is populated with reserves built for the modern game, as well. Mighty mite safety Shamarko Thomas hits like a little linebacker, and thin-but-strong linebacker Terence Garvin is called “Big Safety” by the coaching staff because of his coverage skills.

But there must be key pieces if a defense is going to plant hybrids throughout, and the Steelers’ centerpiece is Lawrence Timmons.

Here’s LeBeau on his new buck inside linebacker and probable captain:

“Lawrence is an amazing guy,” LeBeau said. “He played the open inside backer (mack) for us all along. We had some injury problems a couple years ago and he went to outside and did a great job for us outside. He played the inside in the third-down defense. And when we had a problem at the strong side, he went to the strong side (buck). He’s a very versatile guy.

“He really looks at home, to me, on the strong side. I think those two guys are going to give us a lot of speed at a position that doesn’t necessarily feature speed. We’re going to be fast at the inside backer.”

That other speedy inside backer is, of course, Shazier, the first-round draft pick who was moved into the starting lineup the first day of rookie minicamp and hasn’t looked back.

LeBeau is also high on the second-round pick, Stephon Tuitt, who’s been working at first-team LDE with NT Steve McLendon out the past three days.

“He’s an exceptional athlete for his size, and he can run,” LeBeau said of Tuitt. “Even though I knew he could run, when I see him in person I am surprised at his endurance and his speed and quickness. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy that big move like that. Now, does that mean he’s going to be a great player? No, it doesn’t. There are a lot of other things that come in there. He seems willing to try to acquire that knowledge and those skills, so we’ll see where he goes.

“Again, these young guys, I don’t want to overload the expectations, but at this stage in the training camp, they’re doing a good job.”

So there’s speed up front, speed at linebacker and with the acquisition of Mitchell this past off-season speed in the back end. That ought to help contain Manziel – the rookie quarterback with the Browns – in the opener.

LeBeau was asked why he expects Manziel to start over Brian Hoyer.

“He impressed me with his college career” LeBeau said. “He makes plays, and he was playing against some real talented athletes in that conference (SEC) on defense, too. What I could see, they were getting up there around 45, 50 points a game, so your quarterback’s gotta be doing something right. And he can keep the play alive.

“I’m not a coach in Cleveland, and I don’t know what they’re going to do, I’m just telling you what I’m doing.”

NOTES – Shazier has his right knee wrapped, but his injury is still called “a boo boo” by Mike Tomlin, so Shazier (boo boo), Steve McLendon (concussion) and Jarvis Jones (groin) continued to miss practice on Wednesday. Lance Moore, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert were off. ... Full practice details first thing in the morning.

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