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Bevy of LBs has Steelers' Butler beaming

| Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No one was happier with the Steelers' bounty from the recent NFL Draft than linebackers coach Keith Butler.

The Steelers selected three linebackers, including two outside 'backers — Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson — among their top four selections.

"Glory hallelujah!'' Butler joked after the Steelers drafted Stevenson Sylvester in the fifth round, the third linebacker selected for Butler to coach.

Even before the draft, the Steelers were well-stocked at linebacker. There are veterans James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Andre Frazier on the outside, and James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox inside.

But where the majority of those linebackers, with the exception of Timmons, are better known for their smarts and positioning on the field, Worilds, Gibson and Sylvester offer an element the Steelers have been lacking — speed.

"Speed, but more than anything else he was fluid,'' Butler said in describing Worilds, whose 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash at Virginia Tech's pro day makes him the fastest outside linebacker on the Steelers' roster.

"He's a fast, fast-playing, aggressive, play-hard kid,'' Butler said about Stevenson, who's being asked to make the transition from college outside linebacker to inside 'backer in the pros.

Butler's ability to instruct and fit young linebackers into defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's complicated schemes ranks him among the league's top assistants.

"A lot of times guys like (Worilds) have played defensive end all these years (in college), and all they've done is put their hand on the ground and looked at offensive tackles and tight ends are not seeing the whole picture,'' said Butler, who joined the Steelers staff in 2003.

"The thing that's hardest for these guys is to adjust to formations and number counts we use in terms of how we cover receivers — figuring out where they line up. The NFL is getting more creative with its formations, with all the unbalanced stuff. I think there's going to be even more of an emphasis to where you line up.''

Butler and coach Mike Tomlin previously worked together at Memphis in 1996, where Butler was the linebackers/defensive end/special teams coach and Tomlin was the defensive backs coach.

A linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks from 1978-87, where he still ranks second in franchise history in career tackles, Butler is viewed as more than a coach by his players because of his ability to relate to them.

It's what endears Butler to Farrior, a co-captain who makes the defensive calls.

"The thing about him is he was a ballplayer — he played linebacker,'' Farrior said. "He usually knows why we make mistakes. He's able to relate on a totally different level than another coach would because he's been in every situation we've been in.''

Farrior said players were concerned when Butler received an opportunity in January to become the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator. Butler turned down the offer to remain with the Steelers.

"I was keeping up real close with that situation. It was going to be a big change for us. I know his ultimate goal is probably one day to be a head coach. We definitely didn't want him to leave, but we understood,'' Farrior said.

"We all work well together because he has a good understanding of everything that we're going through and everything that goes on on the football field. That gives us a different level of respect over a coach that didn't play the game.''

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