Porter: Defense May Flip, Change Scheme

Steelers OLB coach looking for more from Watt, Dupree

Josh Rowntree
June 13, 2018 - 9:36 pm
Steelers OLB Coach Joey Porter during the team's OTA session in May 2018

Josh Rowntree


The 2017-2018 Steelers were hard to figure from a pass rushing standpoint. 

The team broke the franchise’s single season sacks record. But of the team’s 56 sacks, only 17 came from the outside linebackers. 

T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree combined for 13 sacks. Anthony Chickillo added three more and James Harrison had one. 

Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter has been pleased with the early work of the group during the team’s OTA and minicamp sessions. 

“They look good,” Porter said. "Everybody's in shape and doing what we’re asking them to do. So far, so good.”

When the season starts, it’s likely that the defense will look somewhat different. The team’s traditional 3-4 base defense may go by the wayside for a 4-3 look. 

Dupree, who has played mostly on the left side, is going to shift to the right. Watt, entering his second year, will switch to the eft. 

“We just thought it was a good opportunity for (Dupree) to get a chance to rush from the other side,” Porter said. "We feel like he had a lot of good rushes from the left side, but the quarterback would see him and he would miss more opportunities.”

Porter noted that, at the moment, everything is a work in progress and the positions aren’t set in stone. But he does feel that Watt will be more comfortable switching ends, even though, as a rookie, Watt did have flashes of strong play.

“T.J. was a left side rusher from the beginning,” he said. "He actually loves the left side. So, hopefully that works out for him also."

"From a concept principle of it, he knows the defense and he’s comfortable with the defense. In year two, you’d like to see him do everything that he did last year better."

Watt won’t have to worry about special teams assignments anymore, according to Porter. 

"I like my depth,” Porter said. "I love the youth. I love where we’re at. It’s not like they’re new to the system. Those three guys have played enough games to know what we want and how to execute the defense. Now it’s about production.”

The production numbers from his group, even if the team succeeded, weren’t enough. But Porter weighs defensive performances on more than takedowns of the opposing quarterback.

"It’s just tough for our position because we’re judged by sacks,” he said. “It’s different because our team isn’t that selfish where the outside linebackers are featured in the defense. We send so many guys to where everyone is going to have production.”

Like the flipping of Dupree and Watt, Porter isn’t sure if the 4-3 look will stick by the time the first kickoff rolls around. 

Either way, the offseason bolstering of the secondary, specifically the safeties, can be beneficial to edge rushers. 

"When we add speed and versatility to our team, it’s going to open up the whole team,” he said. "We’ve got guys that can cover and tackle. That’s just going to make us better."

"I think we addressed that with the draft and free agents. We’ve got a lot of safeties now that can come up and make the hit and guys that can play the ball." 

In last season’s surprising playoff loss to Jacksonville, the Steelers did not record a single sack. Watt and Dupree combined for four tackles.

The performance led many to call for Porter’s job.

"All you can do is start over,” he said. "But to say it didn’t leave a sour taste in our mouth, it definitely did. That kind of game is what the Steelers are based on playing. You’re going to come in here and try to run the ball, that’s what we want, that’s our strength, that’s what we’re known for. And it didn’t go our way." 

"It’s something that we want to address, and something that we’re going to address. I think we’ve got the pieces and the tools to do it.”

Hear more from Porter below.