Communication, communication, communication. If there has been a theme to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason so far on the defensive side of the ball, then it would have to be their efforts to try to address communication issues that really dogged the unit last season, particularly late in the year following the injury to mack linebacker Ryan Shazier, who set the defense.
With Shazier already ruled out for the season, the front office went out in free agency to find another mack linebacker who has experience calling the defense. They came out with Jon Bostic, who started 14 of 14 games for the Indianapolis Colts last season and hardly came off the field.
They also signed eight-year veteran safety Morgan Burnett, who spent those years with the Green Bay Packers, working under Dom Capers. Burnett saw an increased role as a dimebacker in sub-packages last season and at a certain point was asked to set the defense himself.
So the Steelers have brought in two communicators on defense, which directly echoes the comments of defensive coordinator Keith Butler during rookie minicamp. “I’ve always said, defensively, you’ve got to have two big mouths”, he told Missi Matthews in a sit-down interview for the team’s website.
“One of them is in the front, with the linebackers, and Ryan Shazier was that big mouth for us last year”, he said. “What those guys did is that they were very vocal, and the guys around them could hear them. You could be vocal, but people can’t hear you. You’ve got to bellow stuff out”.
Shazier was that guy. Now they are hoping that Bostic and Burnett will be able to take over a lot of that responsibility. And Butler and the rest of the coaching staff also feel good about rookie first-round safety Terrell Edmunds being able to work into that role as well.
“We think Terrell is going to be able to do that for us. We think he’s going to be able to help us with the communication and stuff like that”, Butler told Matthews. He talked about the fact that “as a college player you don’t have to communicate quite as much as you do in the NFL because all those guys in college are looking to the sideline and seeing cards”, but suggested that Edmunds would have an easier time than most with that.
“A lot of times in the NFL we make checks and stuff on the field and we’ve all got to be on the same page when we do that”, he said of the importance of having strong communicators, both in receiving and disseminating information. “We’ve got to have guys that are sharp enough to understand what we’re trying to do” and getting them into the right looks.
There are plenty of arguments to be made about this or that deficiency on the defensive side of the ball last season, but none of them compared to how much pain they inflicted upon themselves simply from poor communication. A lot of that had to do with personnel turnover. But they know it has to be cleaned up this year.