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Butler vows no major changes to Steelers' defense

| Thursday, June 11, 2015, 10:39 p.m.
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler shares a laugh during organized team activities Thursday, June 11, 2015, on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler shares a laugh during organized team activities Thursday, June 11, 2015, on Pittsburgh's South Side.

The Steelers defense wasn't very good last year.

It wasn't much better the year before that, either.

However, if you are looking for a total rewrite out of the group with new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, you aren't going to get it. You are going to have to settle for a couple minor edits and hope that's good enough.

Talking to the media for the first time since the Steelers moved on without Dick LeBeau in January, Butler revealed that a major overhaul with a defense that finished in the bottom half of the rankings the past two years isn't on the agenda.

Wrinkles, that's another story.

“There are some things we did well last year,” Butler said. “We have to try to marry two things, the things that we did well last year and maybe some things we haven't done before here. We are going to try to do those.”

And those wrinkles will consist of?

“I will let the Patriots figure that out when we play them,” Butler said.

The Steelers open the season on Sept. 10 against the defending Super Bowl champions in Foxborough, Mass.

“There will be some things that will be different, yes,” Butler said.

We know what changes won't be made. The Steelers still will run the 3-4 defense, use five defensive backs plenty in sub-packages, rely on their linebackers to make plays and surely will incorporate some aspect of the zone blitz.

Butler hinted at one change.

Instead of using talented defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt as road blocks to allow linebackers to run free, Butler wants them to be playmakers.

“Those guys are talented,” Butler said. “We will use them, too. We can't let them always take up for the linebackers or try to take people on for the linebackers. We have to let them play football, too. Hopefully, we can employ everybody in this defense, especially the front seven.”

Naturally, much of what LeBeau did with the defense in his 11 seasons with the Steelers has rubbed off on Butler.

Butler was LeBeau's linebackers coach for his entire tenure. They roomed together at training camp for years, still play golf together and remain good friends, so surely a lot of what LeBeau did rubbed off on Butler.

“He is trying to make some adjustments that he wants to make but without strictly abandoning what has been successful over his career here,” secondary coach Carnell Lake said.

“He's probably taken notes along the way as an assistant coach under LeBeau about things he liked and what he would change, and he's starting to implement those.”

A little adjustment may be all the Steelers' defense needs.

LeBeau's system has a track record of success, finishing No. 1 in total defense four times in a six-year span from 2007-12.

In six of LeBeau's first nine years, his defense finished first in total defense or points allowed. Three times they finished first in both categories.

The 2008 defense was a bad fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIII away from being recognized as one of the best defenses ever.

Linebacker coach Joey Porter, who played three years under LeBeau, doesn't see much change from the defense in which he played.

“It's not the defense,” Porter said. “The defense has been proven over years that it works. We just have to get our guys out there to execute the defense and play at a high level. If it's not broke, don't fix it. We've had a good defense for a long time, and it will continue to be a good defense.”

But the unit has fallen on difficult times lately, failing to produce turnovers and pressure — two longtime staples of a Steelers defense.

They finished 18th this year and 20th in 2013 in total defense and had two of their lowest sack totals (33 and 34) in franchise history.

Now, the onus is on Butler to improve those rankings, and he won't hesitate asking help from anybody — even his head coach.

Butler, who will coach from the sidelines on game days, will ask Mike Tomlin for input. Tomlin was a secondary coach in Tampa and defensive coordinator in Minnesota before coming to the Steelers.

“It would be foolish for me not to get advice or input from him when his expertise is defense,” Butler said. “I don't know everything there is to know about defense. I am going to make some stupid calls out there. I hope my players can cover up for me sometimes. I would be crazy and arrogant to think I could do this without other coaches' help.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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