Kovacevic: Shazier, Tuitt can shore up ... secondary?
“Football in shorts” is more than just one of Mike Tomlin's many pet phrases. It has a distinct beauty, this one. It's the coach's derisive, default comeback for any question that seeks analysis of any of the Steelers' various offseason workouts, and it doesn't even take the requisite verb.
“Coach, what did you of think of Joe Sixth-Rounder?”
“Football in shorts.”
“Coach, anyone out there who …?”
“Football in shorts.”
It's fair, too. No one's wearing pads. No one's hitting. It's all motions.
At the same time, be certain the Steelers' three-day rookie camp, which wrapped up Sunday on the South Side, represented at least the start of something essential for this franchise.
“A pass rush and coverage work together on a defense. They have since the beginning of time, and they always will,” Tomlin came back to one my decidedly non-football-shorts questions this weekend. “You've got to apply pressure to the quarterback. Doesn't matter how many people you do it with. You've got to use as many as is required for consistent pressure to assure that the ball comes out in a timely manner. Because when it doesn't, it means yards and points for the offense. That's just the reality of football at any level.”
It has been a harsh reality around here for a couple of 8-8 seasons now.
My question for the coach, by the way, was chicken-and-egg variety: Which comes first, quality pass rush or quality pass coverage?
And while Tomlin's thoughtful reply was appreciated, I'll offer one that's a whole lot simpler: Seattle.
The Super Bowl champs ranked No. 1 in passing defense (172 yards per game), No. 1 in interceptions (28) and No. 8 in sacks (44). And the Seahawks achieved that, at the risk of another Richard Sherman rant, through the NFL's most athletic and versatile front seven. Linebackers blitzed from all over the Pacific Northwest. Defensive tackles dropped into coverage. Even the base scheme would switch from 4-3 to 3-4 or 2-5, anything to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt.
In the Super Bowl, the Seahawks beat the Broncos by giving Peyton Manning 2.4 seconds to throw, compared to Russell Wilson's 2.81. Manning was pressured on 20 of 51 throws, Wilson on 4 of 27. Manning misfired on all six deep balls, including a pick. And no coincidence, Pro Football Focus' highest grades for Seattle's defense went to ends Chris Clemons (sack, QB hit, four hurries) and Cliff Avril (three QB hits, six hurries), and linebacker K.J. Wright (seven tackles). Even the game's most brilliant on-field mind had no idea what was about to hit him.
Any of that sound familiar?
It should, because that's what Dick LeBeau was doing before being saddled with a lot of aging, immobile pawns and rooks on his chess board.
Well, enter Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt.
The Steelers' top two picks in this month's draft were expressly added to be the “defensive playmakers” Tomlin and Kevin Colbert repeatedly have stated they covet. But their true value will be best measured by the impact on the defense as a whole, in particular whether the front seven can resume — after a two-year hiatus — looking dangerous, unpredictable, maybe even a little menacing.
That's No. 1 here. Make no mistake.
The secondary will be much the same, except for Mike Mitchell taking Ryan Clark's place. The defensive line will have younger legs in Tuitt, Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas and Steve McLendon but no clear nose tackle yet. The linebackers have Lawrence Timmons, a maybe/maybe not sequel for Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones seeking his second sack and Shazier learning on the fly.
That's a lot of ifs. But at least the pieces aren't glued down anymore.
If the speedy, smart and versatile Shazier meets high expectations, he'll allow Troy Polamalu to stop playing linebacker for good, a huge plus all by itself. He'll also help stunt the run. And he'll add a fourth dimension to the pass rush, preventing teams from ganging up on Worilds. He can lighten Timmons' load in pass coverage, too.
“I know I can drop into coverage,” the kid was telling me this weekend. “I've always considered it a strength.”
Tuitt's a bigger man, but he's athletic enough to use in various ways, as well.
Both will need to be quick studies, of course.
“As much as you think you know, there's a long way to go,” Shazier said.
“I've got a lot to learn,” Tuitt said. “This is a defense where you've got to take that playbook with you 24/7.”
Good. That's how it used to be.
I'd tell you how those two looked out there at rookie camp, except that their pants weren't long enough. That'll come soon enough.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- In Steelers-Saints game, all eyes on Brown-Lewis matchup
- Steelers notebook: Defense has a retro feel
- Stakes high as ex-Saints receiver Moore faces his former team
- Steelers notebook: Injury to RT Gilbert opens door for Adams to start
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Steelers notebook: Defense tasked with stopping Graham
- For Steelers, a fight to finish for playoff berth
- Polamalu, Taylor among Steelers starters returning for Sunday’s game vs. Saints
- Steelers realize that Brees-led Saints are always dangerous
- Play of nose tackles could have impact on Steelers’ stretch run