Steelers Defense Looks For Fresh Start

Keith Butler's defense will use training camp to work on communication and 'buying in.'

Shelby Cassesse
July 27, 2018 - 8:17 am
Steelers defense

LATROBE (93.7 The Fan) - If you're a Steeler fan still trying to forget the team's early playoff exit at the hands of Jacksonville in January, you aren't alone.

Members of the Steelers defense arrived at training camp looking to improve upon what went wrong at Heinz Field that day. In a 45-42 shootout, the Steelers allowed Blake Bortles and company to create 378 yards of total offense with five touchdowns in the AFC Divisional Playoff. The Jaguars also did not allow a turnover, compared to the interception and fumble by Ben Roethlisberger. The fumble in the 2nd quarter was returned for a 50-yard touchdown. 

Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt was one of many that said last year's early playoff exit is in the past, but it still serves as motivation. 

"I want to put that behind us, but at the end of the day it just shows you've got to make sure you come out there ready to play week in and week out," Tuitt said. "We're just going to come out here and focus on what we need to do to get better. We have a good team and we have to go out there and prove it."

The "bend, don't break" defense seemed to be a common theme for the season, despite overwhelmingly positive statistics. The Steelers allowed 106 rushing yards and 201 passing yards per game, 10th and 5th best in the league, respectively. However, they allowed 4.4 yards per carry, 27th in the league. 

"I think we had a decent year throughout the whole year, but we're only looked at by our last game," said defensive tackle Cam Heyward. "You look at that game, it was an offensive onslaught for both teams. At the end of the day, we've got to get better on defense, because if you win that game you go into the next weekend, you got a chance to rewrite the story. That's the game we're in, but we've got to continue to improve and can't have those mishaps." 

Moving forward through training camp, several defensive veterans reached a consensus that improving communication is the main focus. Now with a full offseason to prepare for the absence of defensive signal caller Ryan Shazier, the Steelers will continue working to get on the same page. 

"Communication was the biggest thing for us," said cornerback Joe Haden, who is partaking in his first camp as a Steeler. "Just no blown coverages. I feel like if you have a man on a man, they make a play on the field, it is what it is, they're going to do it, but no blown coverages, nobody running free. So, just open communicating, like our coach said, if we are on the same page, even on the wrong page but everybody's on the same page, we can make it happen." 

In some ways, the Steelers defense is starting over with veterans like William Gay and Mike Mitchell no longer with the team. They will look to integrate new pieces of the puzzle with first round draft pick and safety Terrell Edmunds, as well as free agency signees linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Morgan Burnett. 

Head Coach Mike Tomlin said the team can start working on communication right away. 

"General fundamental communication, things that happen pre-snap, things that happen post-play, quick reviews of route concepts or gap responsibility in the run game," he said. "All really good defenses do a good job of that, whether it's pre-play or in a review fashion post-play."