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Steelers

Steelers' defense unfazed by noise, believes in potential

| Thursday, May 28, 2015, 9:33 p.m.
The Steelers are hoping 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones (right) plays well enough so it can limit the snaps of veteran James Harrison (left).
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Steelers are hoping 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones (right) plays well enough so it can limit the snaps of veteran James Harrison (left).

Jarvis Jones doesn't care what “outsiders” are saying about the Steelers' defense.

Lawrence Timmons thinks they are good right now.

And Steve McLendon took exception to the thought of the unit still being a ways away from becoming dominant again.

If nothing else was revealed during the first week of Steelers organized team activities, it was that the much-maligned and heavily scrutinized defense that struggled at times for the second straight year isn't lacking confidence.

“No way am I going to say that we have a long way to go,” McLendon said matter-of-factly.

However, consider what has happened to the defense since they last stepped on the field in early January:

• Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is in Tennessee, and future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu retired

• Jason Worilds, the sacks leader the past two years, surprisingly called it a career

• Veterans Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor were not asked to return

• Their only significant free agent signing was 37-year-old linebacker James Harrison

• They did nothing to immediately upgrade the back half of the defense

Finishing in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards and points allowed for the third straight year might just be wishful thinking, but not to the Steelers.

“I feel that we have the pieces, and the guys understand where we are trying to go,” McLendon said. “I believe in my teammates, that's what I believe in. I don't believe in what anybody else says. I believe in what my teammates can do. We have a very talented room, and I am excited.”

The Steelers have added a lot of young talent since the “old and slow” days of a few years ago.

The front office used first-round picks on defense in four of the past five years, including last month when they took Bud Dupree with the 22nd overall pick. The Steelers are the only team in the league that can say they have four first-round linebackers on their roster — Dupree, Timmons, Jones and Ryan Shazier.

Talent isn't an issue.

“We are NFL players,” Timmons said. “You have the best players in the world. The athletes aren't the question. It is if we can play together. Potential doesn't mean anything if you don't work toward it.”

The Steelers had their share of good moments last year, but the bad outweighed the good more often than not.

The Steelers defense allowed fewer than 300 yards only three times but lost two of those games. They gave up 400 yards passing to Andrew Luck but held four of their final five opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

And for the second consecutive year, the Steelers finished in the bottom third of the NFL in sacks with 33, their fewest in 26 years.

“We really take pride in our defense around here,” Timmons said. “I think we are a pretty good unit. We have a new unit with a lot of young guys, and we are just trying to get that cohesion of playing together. We have to do the little things to that, and that starts with building a foundation.”

Players insist new defensive coordinator Keith Butler isn't going to dramatically change the defense rather than just put his personal touch on it. Butler could try to find a way to force more turnovers and pressure the quarterback, something the Steelers didn't do well the past couple of seasons.

“At the end of the day, we are just out here working and don't care what anybody says,” Jones said. “We are putting the work in and it's going to show when the season comes. All the talk going on outside our facility really doesn't bother us.”

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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