Keith Butler will get chance to put stamp on Steelers' defense

PITTSBURGH -- There is significant change coming with Keith Butler succeeding Dick LeBeau as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator.

But that is more in Butler’s increased responsibilities and not in the Steelers’ fundamental approach to playing defense, general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week.

“The coaches will determine the X's and O's [but] I don’t anticipate a huge difference,” Colbert said.

Both Butler and team president Art Rooney II have said Pittsburgh won’t deviate much from what it did under LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator from 2004-14. And Butler shares the same philosophy as LeBeau, whom he worked under for 11 of his 12 seasons with the Steelers.

That doesn’t mean Butler won’t get a chance to put his stamp on a defense that recorded just 33 sacks last season and allowed 4.36 yards per carry, the highest yielded by the Steelers since 1964, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Far from it, Butler will now be more involved in personnel discussions than he had been as the Steelers’ linebackers coach from 2003-14.

“In the past we only got Keith’s input on linebackers. Now he’s going to be talking about defensive linemen, he’s going to be talking about secondary people, so there will be a learning experience for us to hear what his preferences are for those positions,” Colbert said. “We know what he likes and doesn’t like as a linebackers coach, but now it will be the whole defense.”

The Steelers started full staff personnel discussions on Wednesday with position coaches offering grades on players from last season.

Colbert, Tomlin and the Steelers’ scouts and assistant coaches are also putting together the team’s plan for free agency based on needs and players who might be available after the new league year starts on March 10.

Colbert said the list of outside free agents the Steelers may target will be around 30 players. That number, Colbert said, is based on the players the Steelers anticipate being available and those who are within their price range.

“We’ll certainly be looking at improving the pass rush and improving the coverage in the secondary,” Colbert said.