But what was needed to fix the problem wasn't just a little housecleaning. No, the Steelers basically rebuilt their secondary from the ground up.
"There's a lot of new guys who are finally getting a chance," said
Chris Hope, who is set to replace Brent Alexander as the starting
free safety. "It's a game of waiting and I've waited my turn.
Coming from Florida State where I had been a starter, basically
since my sophomore year, it was hard sitting and watching when
I felt I could help the team in more ways than I was asked to.
That was the hard part."
The Steelers will have three different starters from the secondary
that began last season as in addition to Hope replacing
Alexander, Troy Polamalu is now the strong safety instead of
Mike Logan, while Deshea Townsend is now a starter at
cornerback in place of Dewayne Washington. Only Chad Scott,
who finished the 2003 season on injured reserve with a broken
hand, will retain his starting cornerback position.
"There's a little more excitement and probably a little more
nervousness," said Townsend, who had been the team's third
cornerback for his first six seasons in the league before
replacing Washington at midseason last year and starting the
team's final eight games.
"We're trying to get to know each other in these (starting) roles.
It's going to be fun back there. There's a lot of guys who are
hungry to go out there and show what they can do."
While the Steelers' secondary didn't give up as much yardage as
it did in 2002, when the team allowed eight of its 16 regular
season opponents to throw for 250 or more yards, it did so
because the coaching staff didn't have the defense play as
aggressively. The theory last season was to make opponents
dink their way down the field instead of giving up big plays.
It worked in the respect that the team allowed just four opposing
quarterbacks to throw for more than 250 yards. But it also hurt
the team's aggressiveness. The Steelers had just 35 sacks, the
fewest they've had under Cowher. They also intercepted just 14
passes, with Townsend leading the team with three
interceptions and 12 pass defenses.
But Lewis was let go following the season's end and former
defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was brought back to help the
team's defense improve.
"Coach LeBeau is all about pressure and being aggressive. The
more pressure they put up front, the tighter the defense they
expect from me," Townsend said. "And the tighter we cover, the
more time that gives them to get to the quarterback. Everything
But there's no doubt the emphasis for the Steelers was
re-working the secondary. Not only were Hope, Polamalu and
Townsend inserted into the starting lineup. But the team added
second-round pick Ricardo Colclough to the mix to go along with
last year's fourth-round selection, Ike Taylor.
But the Steelers also have several veterans in camp competing
for backup spots. Logan was re-signed to provide a veteran
presence behind Hope and Polamalu, while corners Willie Williams and Terry Fair and safeties Shane Walton and Ainsley Battles were added from other teams.
Between Logan, Williams - a former Steelers' draft pick and
starter, Fair and Battles, another former Steelers player, there
are over 200 career NFL starts.
"We've got some new guys out here bringing a lot of speed to
this defense," said defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. "But
there's some veteran guys back there too who know the tricks of
the trade. It's a nice mix and they should be really good this
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