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Steelers

Steelers notebook: Mike Tomlin says Titans defense is 'signature' Dick LeBeau

Chris Harlan
| Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, 7:48 p.m.
Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 80, coached the Steelers for 16 seasons over two stints.
Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 80, coached the Steelers for 16 seasons over two stints.
In this Aug. 16, 2017 photo, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, center, talks with Manny Abad (38), Justin Staples (57) and Denzel Johnson (42) during NFL football training camp in Nashville, Tenn. LeBeau used to look forward to his birthday coinciding with the start of a brand new football season. Now, about to turn 80 as he starts his 59th NFL season, LeBeau remains hard at work as the Titans' defensive coordinator. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
In this Aug. 16, 2017 photo, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, center, talks with Manny Abad (38), Justin Staples (57) and Denzel Johnson (42) during NFL football training camp in Nashville, Tenn. LeBeau used to look forward to his birthday coinciding with the start of a brand new football season. Now, about to turn 80 as he starts his 59th NFL season, LeBeau remains hard at work as the Titans' defensive coordinator. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Three years have passed since Dick LeBeau last coached the Steelers defense, but his influence remains in his absence.

“If you spend one, two, three or four years with him, I like to think you grew up with him,” said defensive end Cam Heyward, who played four seasons for LeBeau. “I think a lot of our characteristics are Dick LeBeau-driven. … Our goals and stuff are still Coach LeBeau's and the way he wanted it because our coaches were under him. I think his imprint is a lasting imprint.”

That's why Heyward expected Thursday to be “weird” when LeBeau returns to Heinz Field as assistant head coach of the Tennessee Titans. This will be LeBeau's first matchup with the Steelers since he joined the Titans defensive staff in 2015.

LeBeau, 80, coached the Steelers for 16 seasons in two stints. The second lasted from 2004 until he resigned as defensive coordinator after the '14 season.

“I still miss him saying: ‘What's up Buckeye? How are you doing?' ” Heyward said Monday. “His Christmas night tale that he would tell us. There are so many stories I have that I'll cherish. But this isn't a funeral or anything. Coach LeBeau is going to be out there trying to kick our (butt), so we have to be ready.”

Coach Mike Tomlin, who had LeBeau on his staff for eight seasons, agreed.

“As awesome as it will be to see Dick on a personal note, he's not the kind of guy you want to see in a headset on the other sideline,” Tomlin said.

The Titans arrive in Pittsburgh with a four-game winning streak behind a defense Tomlin called “quintessential Dick LeBeau.” The Titans ranks sixth against the run (91.9 yards per game) and also are sixth-best in third-down percentage (33.3).

“They're taking the ball away. They're minimizing run game. They're making the explosion and splash plays,” Tomlin said. “That is the signature of his ball. That's a significant reason why they're 6-3 and division leaders.”

Tomlin noted LeBeau's ability to adjust and pointed to Sunday's 24-20 victory over Cincinnati, when the Bengals converted only 1 of 10 third-down chances.

“(The Titans) are historically not a heavy man-to-man team. They came out and played man-to-man,” Tomlin said. “They played two-on-one on A.J. Green. Everybody else played man-to-man. They won all the possession battles. They won the game. That's Dick LeBeau.”

Sutton's activation uncertain

Rookie third-round pick Cameron Sutton said Monday he had not yet been given any indication from coaches or management about when or if he would be activated off injured reserve. The cornerback must be activated by early next week or, by NFL rule, he is out for the season.

During the Aug. 31 preseason finale, Sutton aggravated a hamstring injury that plagued him during training camp and was placed on IR. He began practicing with the Steelers the week before the team's bye.

The Steelers have six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster and haven't had to make any in-season IR moves at any position that would have cleared roster space. Asked Monday how Haden's injury would impact the team's decision with Sutton, Tomlin said: “It doesn't.”

Sutton said he was not given any guarantees he absolutely will be activated before the 21-day window for doing so expires next week.

“I don't have like clear read on that, you know?” Sutton said. “They just keep telling me to just continue to keep doing what I'm doing. I don't really know anything else about it. But I just come to work. I don't worry about that.”

NFL picks Steelers-Colts for replay

The NFL Network chose the Steelers-Colts matchup as this week's Replay Game of the Week, meaning the broadcast will be televised again Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The 9 p.m. Tuesday showing will be a one-hour condensed version. The full broadcast will be at 8 p.m., Wednesday.

Chris Adamski contributed. Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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