<
>

Steelers crafting direction for new-look defense in training camp

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have been vague on what changes will surface with the retooled defense led by first-year coordinator Keith Butler. Coach Mike Tomlin might not even know. He's trusting that his new guy, who's waited more than a decade to become a coordinator, will have this defense ready. Plus, the Steelers haven't been in pads, with no hitting, so by the end of the week the picture will be clearer.

But, for now, let's highlight a few things I think the Steelers are trying to do with a defense that's without Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor for the first time in more than a decade. These are based on observations and conversations with players.

Team speed should improve but needs to show up more: Linebacker Ryan Shazier, who's one of the defense's most athletic players, sees enough overall speed on the defense, especially at linebacker, to gang tackle well and defend passes.

"Our speed is tremendous and it will really show," Shazier said.

The Steelers showed this early on the first day of camp with back-to-back interceptions of Landry Jones. But that was Landry Jones. The first-team offense got what it wanted for much of the 11-on-11 work, though that's expected. The offense is one of the league's best. Covering Antonio Brown isn't good for Cortez Allen's confidence. Many times, the Steelers leave too many passing lanes open in the intermediate game. The Steelers want to force Ben Roethlisberger into a difficult throw, not an obvious one.

The speed of Shazier and first-round linebacker Bud Dupree is noticeable in live action. Once corner Senquez Golson returns from a shoulder injury, the Steelers will have young speed readily available at several spots.

Create one-on-one matchups with defensive ends: If the Steelers stop the run on first and second down, defensive ends should have more chances to rush the passer, Cam Heyward said. Fellow end Stephon Tuitt said he'd love to see double-digit sacks for himself and Heyward.

Let's take a step back there. The Steelers barely could get 20 sacks last season as a defense, let alone from two positions. But the confidence from this group is good.

Heyward said much of the defensive fronts will depend on how the opposing offense counteracts.

"Once you get the one-on-ones, it's what you do with them." Heyward said.

Rush inside linebackers: The Steelers are desperate for a pass rush after finishing 26th in the league with 33 sacks. The Steelers feel Shazier and Lawrence Timmons are quick enough to get to the quarterback on inside rushes, so don't be surprised if that's utilized there, especially with Timmons, who did this a few times during Saturday's session.

First-round picks want to produce: Shazier said he and linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has three sacks since the team selected him 17th overall two years ago, have talked frequently this offseason about how they want this season to go.

"He has a lot to prove just like I do," Shazier said. "We've been talking and we've been working this offseason. ...I feel we have a lot of thumpers and people just don't know about it."

Dupree, who expects to compete at left end, believes he's learned the defense quickly enough to contribute early.

An edge: The Steelers want to be feared again.

"We've had a chip on our shoulder since Warren Sapp was talking about we were too old," Heyward said. "We're always going to find an edge. ...Our goal is to be a top defense in the league."