Mike Tomlin excited to see what Keith Butler does with Pittsburgh Steelers' defense

PHOENIX -- The Pittsburgh Steelers opted for change when they promoted linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator to replace Dick LeBeau.

One thing that put coach Mike Tomlin at ease with the move is that it offered change but not upheaval.

And that's from an organizational, philosophical and even personal standpoint.

Tomlin and Butler have coached together in three different places. They first worked with each other in 1996, when Butler coached the linebackers and defensive ends at Memphis and Tomlin served as his graduate assistant.

"The nature of our relationship has changed over the years and I enjoy that," Tomlin said with a laugh while chatting with Pittsburgh reporters at the NFL owners meetings. "We have a great deal of comfort and continuity. Also I'm looking forward to the impact he can have of putting his spin on what we have been doing. I am excited about how that might make us different and more competitive as we move forward. Change isn't something that I fear. If you are trying to be the very best that you can be, you can't have that mentality."

Butler, at best, inherits a defense that is in transition. The more cynical view is that Butler has been handed a defense with more holes than a bad alibi.

Either way, he will try to mold a respectable unit that can complement an offense that could again be one of the best in the NFL.

Butler has said he won't fundamentally change the Steelers' approach to defense. But he will have his own ideas when it comes to shutting down the run and rushing the passer -- areas in which the Steelers have slipped the past two years as the defense has been too old in some places, but too callow in others.

When asked if the Steelers needed a new pair of eyes on the defense after 11 seasons of LeBeau as the coordinator, Tomlin said, "With change come some positive things. It also comes with some potential negative things. It is our job to potentially work to minimize the negative associated with change, and that's being on the same page and having an understanding of what we are trying to get done specifically and culturally. Some of the positives are that you are somewhat less known in terms of your personality or [what] your agenda may be."

LeBeau is one of the most innovative defensive minds in NFL history, but his signature zone blitzes may have lost the element of surprise, given how long he had run the defense in Pittsburgh.

Tomlin, however, said defensive shortcomings or breakdowns usually result from a lack of execution rather than an issue with scheme. That is generally true for teams across the board, he said.

"Just know that we have a great deal of love and respect for not only the man, but what he brought to us," Tomlin said of LeBeau, who is now running the Tennessee Titans' defense. "He moved on and we feel that we have a very capable man in Keith Butler."