Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler has long held the reputation of being one of the more straight-shooting coaches in the league, speaking candidly and freely about what he makes of his players, or whatever the topic may be.
It’s for that reason in particular that I always like to hear what Butler has to say about his group. Defensive line coach John Mitchell rarely thinks that anybody can do anything up to his expectations in their first couple seasons. Other position coaches will speak more guardedly, or outwardly positively, about their players.
Butler will tell that you LaMarr Woodley is playing overweight or that Stevenson Sylvester needs to put it all together this year or risk getting cut. He’ll tell you that Jarvis Jones was running around like a chicken without a head last year. So what does he make of the group of linebackers he has to work with this year?
For starters, he’s seeing improvement in Jones, last year’s first-round pick and an eight-game starter who managed just one sack as a rookie. “Jarvis looks a lot better”, he said.
He’s confident in what he’s doing. He’s still making a mistake every now and then, but he’s very sudden, very quick. He’s got great short-area quickness. He just has to learn to keep himself out of positions where he gets in a foot race. I think last year he was doing more thinking than he should have when he came off the ball. He was trying to do what we were requiring him to do in terms of playing within the framework of the defense. I think he knows a little bit more about the framework of the defense this year. He knows what he can do and what he can’t do.
It’s important that Butler knows what Jones can and can’t do as well, and help nurture what he can do while masking what he can’t. it’s no surprise to hear him acknowledge that he doesn’t want to see Jones in a foot race after his disappointing 40-time from last year’s Combine.
On Jason Worilds, Butler says that while he’s “still getting better” and “has a lot of talent”, he “has to decide whether he wants to be good or not and he has to do the things he’s got to do to be good”. But the veteran coach thinks that he is willing, and that he has been in years past.
The one source of consistency at the linebacker position over the last few years has been inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who with the release of Larry Foote is now the leader of the entire group, and Butler thinks he’s sliding into that role as leader, and leading the way he knows best: by example.
He’s a great example to the young guys around him. He’s always running to the ball. You look at him and Cam Heyward; they’re always running to the ball. No. 50 is starting to pick that up a little bit and run to the ball with them. You turn on the film and you see those guys 30 yards down the field trying to get to the ball, and Lawrence always does that. I’m pleased with him, and I’m glad we have him.
And speaking of 50, which is rookie Ryan Shazier, Butler is looking forward to putting his speed to good use. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has surely been adjusting his plans to fit the explosive rookie’s talents. “We have some things in there to utilize his blitzing ability along with Lawrence Timmons’ blitzing ability”, he said after talking about the “good things [in] pass rushing” that he did in college.