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Daniel McCullers looks to engulf the competition in 2015. Photo courtesy of www.reddit.com
Much of the defensive talk regarding the Steelers this offseason centers around Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier reaching their potential, and their need to remain healthy in order for the defense to take a step forward. While that is a very valid point, that is just one of the issues that Keith Butler needs to resolve in order for the Steelers’ defense to evolve into part of the solution to bringing a seventh Super Bowl title back to Pittsburgh. Age and injuries have surely gone hand in hand with the reduction in the ability of the defense to create the big plays that Steelernation is accustomed to seeing. But as the defense transitions to life under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, there is comfort in knowing that the continuity of the system remains and that there is plenty of talent available to develop going forward.
Since 1992, when the Steelers converted to a 3-4 defense under Bill Cowher and Dom Capers, the main function of the defensive line has been to occupy blockers, plug up the running lanes and to keep the linebackers freed up to make plays and to get pressure on the quarterback, which they have done very well throughout the years. From Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, to Joey Porter and Clark Hagans, to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, Steelers’ outside linebackers have been bringing nightmarish pressure for the last 23 years. The one constant in all that success at getting to the quarterback has been a stout defensive tackle that can occupy multiple blockers. First it was Joel Steed, drafted out of Colorado in 1992, followed by Casey Hampton who was the Steelers’ first pick out of Texas in 2001. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers’ sack numbers have dropped since “Big Snack” wandered off into the sunset after the 2012 season. Perhaps the next Steed/Hampton type defensive tackle just might already be on the current roster and... [Read More]
Over the past several seasons, the Steelers’ secondary has been lacking the ability to create turnovers, mainly in the form of interceptions. On several painful occasions, a Steeler defensive back’s failure to hang on to the ball has resulted in a second chance for a team to come back and put the game away in the final minutes. A game that stands out is a 2009 home loss to the Raiders where CB Joe Burnett dropped an errant throw from Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski. If Burnett intercepts that ball near midfield, he puts the game away for the Steelers. Instead, Gradkowski comes back to hit Larry Murphy with the game winning touchdown pass with less than a minute left in the game. The Steelers finished 9-7 that season, one win shy of making the playoffs.
While it may not be fair or accurate to say that Joe Burnett’s failure to intercept a pass, that hit him between the numbers, cost the Steelers a postseason berth, it underscores the importance that a defensive back should have solid ball skills. Mel Blount, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake and Troy Polamalu all had solid ball skills and all had direct impacts on the outcome of games with timely interceptions. Who could ever forget Troy’s touchdown return when he picked off a Joe Flacco pass in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, that sealed the Steelers trip to Super Bowl XLIII?
In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected three DB’s who possess the type of hands the secondary has been lacking. Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and Gerod Holliman had 29 interceptions between them during their final collegiate seasons. Among these three, Grant had the “ordinary” season with only 5 interceptions, compared with Golson’s 10 and Holliman’s 14, which tied an FBS record. The Steelers defense in 2014 totaled only 14 interceptions. While the biggest knock on Golson and Grant is their size, Holliman’s biggest issues coming out of Louisville were his ability to tackle and willingness to hit. That description seems to fit another safety who also has a nose for the football, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. Holliman, who says he is capable of being physical, has never been required to be that type of player within the system he came from. Is it a fluke that these guys had so many interceptions last season? Unless the quarterbacks that they faced last year were just horribly bad, it’s a very good indication that they truly have good ball instincts.
With Willie Gay, the Steelers seem to have somewhat... [Read More]
2014 was a record setting season for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense and from the most productive set of triplets in NFL history. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards with 4,952, averaging 309.5 yards per game. He added in 32 touchdown passes against 7 interceptions and a QBR of 103.3, leading the Steelers to an 11-5 record and an AFC North division title. It was the first playoff appearance for Pittsburgh, following back to back 8-8 records in 2012 and 2013.
Catching 129 of Roethlisberger’s passes was Antonio Brown, whose receptions total was second in NFL history for a single season, and went for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. The question of what can Brown do for you? was answered on a weekly basis, from just about every scenerio imaginable. From Punt returns to a big third or fourth down catch to sustain a drive, Antonio Brown delivered on time. The second leading receiver for the Steelers last season was all-world running back LeVeon Bell, who had 83 receptions for 854 yards and 3 touchdowns. On the ground, Bell averaged 4.7 yards per carry, on his way to 1,361 yards and 8 touchdowns.
What sets Ben, Bell and Brown apart, from the other sets of triplets of the past that they have been compared to, is that they are all within their prime years and they aren’t even close to being satisfied with what they have accomplished. They won’t be out worked by anyone. Perhaps the biggest attribute they have is that they are humble in their confidence to get the jobs done and they are all team first guys. These three will be once again be leading an offense, in 2015, that is going to have to carry the team while the defense comes together during its much needed youth movement.
While the Steelers are still looking for a viable backup for Big Ben, they brought in free agent running back D’Angelo Williams to help keep Bell fresh all season, giving the Steelers one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Williams should be a more than adequate replacement while Bell is serving his suspension. With receiving depth that includes Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and rookie Sammie Coates, Antonio Brown should continue to see single coverage and continue his ongoing streak of at least 5 receptions/60 yards per game that is sitting at around 34 consecutive games now.
With arguably the toughest schedule in the league facing the Steelers this season, not alot of people have the Steelers... [Read More]
Replacing a legend is never an enviable task, just ask Bill Cowher, or better yet Cliff Stoudt, about what it was like replacing Terry Bradshaw. I'm pretty sure that Stoudt wishes he would have had the success that Bill Cowher had replacing Chuck Noll. It is now Keith Butler's turn to replace a Steelers legend as he takes over for long time defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau. The Father of the 3-4 zone blitz scheme, LeBeau was a master at disguising coverages and would blitz from anywhere out of any formation. His scheme was a nightmare for offensive coordinators around the league, when he had the athletes to maximize the effectiveness of what he was looking to do.
LeBeau's scheme was difficult for young players to pick up, so often they sat for three or four years before seeing regular playing time. As players like Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu left or retired, and were replaced with less talented players, his schemes became less effective and had to be scaled back. This past offseason, the Steelers decided to part ways with LeBeau and replace him with long time defensive coordinator in waiting, Keith Butler. While it may seem like Butler will have his hands full replacing a legend like Dick LeBeau, quite the opposite is true.
Keith Butler has plenty of talent to work with and mold, and although he will retain alot of what the defense did under LeBeau, he will simplify and tweak the system to fit the talent that he has available to him. This is why I believe the defense will be alot better than most think it will be and why the younger guys will contribute more alot sooner than they would have under LeBeau. These young guys will be be able to read and react to what they see from offenses and not have to think nearly as much, letting their instincts and abilities able to come through much sooner.
Butler also has the luxury of a explosive offense being able to carry the team for the first four to six weeks of the season, until these guys get comfortable playing with each other and adjusting to what Butler envisions for the defense. Once they get to that point, I look for a defense that is similar to the "Blitzburgh" style of defense that they ran under Dom Capers. Pair that up with the offense that they have, and I can see the Steelers hoisting their seventh Lombardi trophy in the near future. Keith Butler just might have one of the best jobs in the NFL.
We haven't heard too much from Pitt basketball since its fall in the NIT against George Washington. The seniors weren't able to go out on the high note they had hoped. HC Jamie Dixon wasn't able to guide the players to the success he is accustomed to. Thus, I believe there are many questions about this team heading into the summer. Just to name a few:
-Will Dixon be able to corral his players to get them on the "same page" this season?
-Does the return of F Durand Johnson guarantee any more success for Pitt?
-How will the "graduations" of G Cam Wright, F Aron Philips-Nwankwo, and F Derrick Randall affect the team? Who is going to step up?
A few potential explanations may have been provided, as Pitt added a few graduate transfers over the last 6-8 weeks.
"Men's Basketball Signs Graduate Transfer Sterling Smith
Smith transfers to Pitt from Coppin State; immediately eligible to compete for Pitt in 2015-16.
pril 24, 2015
PITTSBURGH--The University of Pittsburgh men's basketball program announced today that Coppin State's Sterling Smith (Chico, Calif./Redemption Christian Academy-Troy, N.Y.) has signed a financial aid agreement and will transfer to Pitt for the 2015-16 season.
Smith, who completed his junior year at Coppin State will be immediately eligible to compete for Pitt because he will graduate this spring. He joins center Rozelle Nix (Cincinnati, Ohio/Pensacola State J.C./Withrow H.S.) and guard Damon Wilson, Jr. (Powder Springs, Ga./Our Savior New American H.S.)--as new players on the 2015-16 roster.
"We are extremely excited about adding Sterling for the 2015-16 season," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "Over his three years at Coppin State, he has proven to be a strong shooter and effective scorer. His size and length will also help us defensively at both guard positions. He also has excelled academically as he graduated in three years."
Smith is a 6-foot-4-inch, 185-pound guard who averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while earning Second Team All-MEAC honors as a junior. A 3-point marksman, Smith also converted 76-182 (41 percent) of his 3-point attempts in 2014-15. Over his three-year, 93-game career, Smith scored 934... [Read More]