Teryl Austin has Steelers DBs taking hands-on approach to creating turnovers
Wide receivers catching balls fired from a JUGS machine is a common sight at any NFL training camp practice.
It’s no different for Pittsburgh Steelers pass catchers, who get their daily share of the work on the JUGS at Saint Vincent.
It’s just that this summer the wide receivers have some company. Defensive backs are joining in and working on their technique at the behest of new senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin.
“That’s mandated by me,” Austin said. “Every day we are going to be on the JUGS machine. We’re going to catch balls before or after practice. This is not a choice. You have a choice of time, but not a choice of whether you are going to do it.”
Austin expects his cornerbacks and safeties to catch 15-20 balls daily while the JUGS machine is being used on the field. That’s the price the Steelers defensive backs have to pay following a season in which the team tied a franchise-low with eight interceptions. In addition, only two teams had fewer takeaways than the Steelers, who finished with 15.
“We’re not there just to knock the ball down or bat it up in the air,” Austin said. “We want to try to catch it and turn it over because those are big in terms of helping our defense.”
Austin was brought to the organization because the Steelers believed the number of defensive backs on the roster — the Steelers have 16 in camp — were too many for one assistant to coach. Austin is working with Tom Bradley, who is in his second season as defensive backs coach. Austin also will assist coach Mike Tomlin in instant replay reviews.
“We try to divide the work so our guys know they can get it from either one of us,” Austin said. “That’s how we want our room. We want it to be a collaborative effort. We want everybody to buy in. It’s our room. It’s not my room. It’s not Tom’s room. It’s not Joe (Haden’s) room.”
The early returns are encouraging. The emphasis on creating turnovers has led to some interceptions in 2-point conversion drills and 11-on-11 work. Cameron Sutton, who has taken reps in the dime defense, has gotten several interceptions and forced a pick that Jordan Dangerfield grabbed in the end zone during practice Thursday.
“Our guys are doing a good job of being in position to challenge,” Austin said. “The first thing you have to do is when they are doing things right, they usually are in position to get their hands on some balls and challenge. The next thing is we’ve got to finish every opportunity we can get.
“The last thing is make sure we clean up and not let any balls get over our head. If we can limit those big plays and still be aggressive at the ball and get our hands on the ball and turn it over, we’ve got a chance to really help our defense.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .