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Steelers notebook: Today's game creates tweaks to 3-4 defense

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By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 8:09 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The 3-4 has been the Steelers' base defense since 1982, the longest continuous stretch any NFL team has stayed with a system the Steelers were greatly responsible for popularizing.

But coach Mike Tomlin said packages with extra defensive backs are such an important part of the game today that no team plays a 3-4 or a 4-3 a majority of the time.

“It's about situational football and what offenses do, and how many receivers they have on the field,” Tomlin said. “Oftentimes we spend a lot of time in sub-package football, whether you are a 3-4 or a 4-3. In today's NFL, most times you have five or six defensive backs on the field. And I really think that is the discussion as opposed to whether you are a 3-4 or 4-3, to be honest with you.”

Value of a job

Tomlin makes about $6 million per season, or twice what Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma make between them. NFL salaries reflect not only the widespread popularity of pro football but also the large amount of revenue teams and the league generate.

Then again, the shelf life of NFL coaches can be very short. The Oakland Raiders have had eight coaches since 2000.

“Well, you know how it is. These aren't easy jobs,” Tomlin said. “And we are compensated accordingly.”

Wilson's impact

Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who died Tuesday at age 95, was a pioneer in the sport, and not just because he was one of the founding fathers of the AFL, according to Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said Wilson's influence on the league was unmistakable, even in later years when he was not involved in day-to-day operations of the franchise.

“His impact helped make the NFL a success, and he always kept the league's best interest in mind to better the game of professional football,” the Rooneys said in a joint statement.

Bills-Steelers scrimmage

The Steelers will hold a joint practice and training camp scrimmage with the Bills on a still-to-be-determined date in August at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

The teams will switch sites and scrimmage at the Bills' camp in 2015.

The time and date for the joint practice in Latrobe will be determined once the teams' camp schedules are finalized.

While other NFL teams regularly hold such practices, the Steelers haven't scrimmaged since they met the Redskins multiple times in the 1990s.

The scrimmages were so popular for several years that they were televised live in Washington.

Skirting the cap

The Steelers were only $1,051,934 below the salary cap as of Wednesday, according to the NFLPA — the least amount of cap space of any team. Only the Detroit Lions ($1,914,330) also had less than $2 million of space.

If the Steelers sign an experienced running back, they'll likely need to make some sort of move to clear space. Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will visit Friday.

General manager Kevin Colbert and Tomlin are scheduled to attend Texas A&M's pro day Thursday.

Measure of a man

As Tomlin and Colbert make their way around the various pro days, they're looking beyond what can be measured — height, weight, 40 time, completion percentage — and trying to gauge character. Colbert said the Steelers already have eliminated some potential picks because of character or other issues.

“I think we are all interested in things that you really can't measure, the heart and the spirit of the man,” Tomlin said. “And I think that is the difference.

“That's something that's never going to change.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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