Steelers, Butler Leaving Camp With Many ???s

Steelers defense trying to evolve but with less experience under first-year defensive coordinator who's trying to sort it all out.

LATROBE -- Keith Butler is coming out of training camp with seemingly as many questions as he had coming in.

Maybe more.

After all, setting the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't going to be merely a case of a long-time assistant doing the same things with the same players.

"No, it's not," said Butler, as he finishes up his first camp as an NFL coordinator.

Butler points first to the gaudy turnover in personnel. Only Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison and William Gay have started in this system for more than two years, and of those three only Timmons has more than two years continuous service.

It's a totally rebuilt unit.

"They've got to get used to all the ins and outs of it," Butler said. "And the only way to coach those ins and outs is for them to go through it."

And make their mistakes.

"Problem is," Butler admitted, "if everybody's like that, then we're going to make a bunch of mistakes."

Then there's the system itself. The Steelers' staple in the secondary throughout the LeBeau years has been cover-3 in the back end with zone-blitzing up front. Now they want their staples to evolve into cover-2 and no blitzing, or just getting "home" with four angry men up front.

It's an attempt to achieve defensive greatness. But how far is it from reality?

"If we're going to play this and get the nuances right of the cover-2, so-called cover-2 Tampa 2," Butler said, "it's just not the secondary. It's the guys up front, too. We've got to be able to win one-on-one battles."

Butler believes the Steelers have the inside players in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to be disruptive as 3-techniques. Butler watched both play it in college.

But the Steelers are lacking at defensive end. They have the 37-year-old Harrison and the work-a-day Arthur Moats, who's probably better suited to come off the edge as a linebacker rather than a hand-down end.

They also have a couple of high draft picks in Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree, who draw so much of Mike Tomlin's daily attention that it could be perceived as a worry.

It's a worry of Butler's anyway.

"We need the outside linebackers to be productive in one-on-one situations," Butler said. "If they get a tackle by themselves, they've got to be productive on the edge and they've got to know when they can come inside and when they can't. They've got to learn. Last week we gave up a touchdown, the quarterback ran for a touchdown, because we lost contain on it. We've got to know when we can have contain or when we've got contain and when not, especially against running quarterbacks who have mobility. We need rush-lane discipline and stuff like that, and that's a little bit new for us because a lot of times we always tried to provide pressure by blitzing. We're going to see if we can not do that. If we don't (need to), then we're not going to blitz as much."

Butler called it "a process" that will inevitably take time, and that's just the rush-and-cover solutions to last year's defensive problems. There's also the problem of stopping the run. Last year's Steelers allowed 4.36 yards per carry, the franchise's worst average in 50 years.

"We've got to stop the run," Butler said. "We are going to be sound, or try to be sound in terms of vacillating between the 3-4 and the 4-3. We've got to be able to fit everything in there. For us, stopping the running game is going to be big. It's going to be huge for us."

So, while Butler's teaching new players the nuances of new and future staples, in regards to both rushing and covering, he's got to find a way to shore up the run defense without knowing what kind of front fits best -- or, at the least, vacillating between two fronts.

There's no doubt that fans -- particularly early in the season -- are going to wonder what the heck the new coordinator, that Keith Butler, is doing out there.

"My wife says that every day," Butler said with a laugh. "Like that's different or something. I get coached up when I get home every day."

But there's so much floating around his brain right now.

"Oh, there is," he said. "That's why I'm trying to compartmentalize all of it. If you can do that, you'll be all right."

Steel City Insider Top Stories