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Steelers' Tomlin fully sold on 3-4 defense

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The transition from staunch supporter of the 4-3 defense to 3-4 convert has been smooth and painless for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Three years later, it's easy to forget that when Tomlin replaced Bill Cowher, he favored a four-man defensive front with a Cover-2 emphasis in the secondary.

Consider Tomlin — entering his fourth season as a true believer in the 3-4 taught by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau — converted.

When describing 2010 draft picks Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson, college defensive ends who will play outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4, Tomlin said, "Outside linebacker is their position or job description. We value that here in Pittsburgh. We believe that's a formula for winning football. They are big guys that can run."

Still entertaining thoughts the Steelers will eventually become a 4-3 team under Tomlin?

Considering that three of the Steelers' top seven draft picks were selected to play linebacker, and that none of them played traditional middle linebacker or outside linebacker positions in college, it's safe to suggest the 3-4 is here to stay.

"Watching some of the guys that played there before me, or now currently, I think I fit perfectly," said Worilds, a second-round pick from Virginia Tech. "With the types of rushes they have, those guys on the edge, I see myself in their mode. LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison — physical, explosive types of edge rushers."

Linebackers coach Keith Butler said the Steelers project Worilds as a stand-up 3-4 linebacker even though he starred at defensive end.

"He's not a guy that you expect to stand up," Butler said. "A lot of guys you stand up early kind of struggle with opening their hips and dropping in pass coverage. He was able to do things that we wanted him to do that we think he can do in this system. It was a matter of us projecting him in this system, and I think he's a good fit for us."

Butler had similar good things to say about Gibson, a fourth-round pick who recorded four sacks, two pass breakups and one interception last season at Ohio State.

"He played some defensive end like a lot of the guys we take at outside linebacker," Butler said. "He stood up some at Ohio State. They do some similar things to what we do. It's not like we're seeing him at the position for the first time."

With their third selection in the fifth round, the Steelers took Utah outside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, an edge pass rusher who will move inside.

Sylvester weighs 231 pounds after playing around 222 last season. Butler said the Steelers aren't concerned about Sylvester's smallish frame because their defensive scheme will keep blockers away from him.

"He, like a lot of inside linebackers this (size), struggles with big guys. But what we do in our system for our guys I think will help him," Butler said.

"Our inside linebackers are not 250-pound guys, with the exception of Lawrence Timmons. Lawrence looks like he weighs 210, but he's 250. (Larry) Foote is about 235 or 240. (Keyaron) Fox is about 240. James Farrior is 230, 235. I'm not concerned about his weight."

The Steelers also signed free-agent defensive end Lindsey Witten of Connecticut (6-foot-4 12, 250 pounds), who recorded 11 12 sacks as a senior. Witten is a natural for the Steelers because he's attempting to make the conversion to outside linebacker in the NFL.

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