Saturday, May 11, 2013

Youth Being Infused Into Steelers Defense



As the 2013 offseason progresses and more information about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their draft class is disseminated, two things come into focus fairly quickly: the defense will be younger and the draft class has, well, class.

Despite many fans being up in arms over the re-signing of Buck linebacker Larry Foote to a three-year contract (only two of which he'll see), or the keeping of oft-injured Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly pointed out that the age of the Steelers defense is steadily dropping.

"[T]he Steelers have progressively gotten younger while keeping the core of their No. 1-ranked defense intact," Kaboly wrote, "which isn’t very easy to do."

"In fact," he continued, "the 'old' Steelers defense has been able to knock off a year every season and, if projections hold true for this year and into next, the Steelers will have gone from 31.1 years of age to 28.2 within a span of three offseasons without any glaring holes in the lineup and reduce their 30-year-olds on defense to as few as two in 2014 … or even less." - http://tinyurl.com/d9xs8kh

One of the younger members of the defense who has been vilified by many over the last year or so because of his weight issues and work ethic is LaMarr Woodley. After being injured and out of shape much of the last two seasons, he has been called out by his position coach -- "Don’t come to camp weighing 290" -- and by an anonymous teammate -- "He was awful. He tells us he works out, but we didn't see it. He wasn't in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt."

But just a few weeks ago, Woodley let his critics know that he is ready to "get after it," saying that his "offseason is going great."

"I'm looking forward to getting back with the team in a few weeks," Woodley said per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I've been training since the middle of February ...It was a disappointing season being 8-8 and not making the playoffs. It was disappointing at the end of the day....I said this offseason I'd be determined to get after it."

Others who look to be determined are cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen who, as If It Ain't Steel related a couple of weeks ago, are working together with To Shaw down at Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Allen has had some praiseworthy words for Taylor who is becoming a mentor.

"Ike is one of the hardest workers I've met," said Allen. "Seeing the way he does things is something that I would one day like to model. I'm getting a close-up view of what it takes to play 10 years in this league."

"We know what's required in the scheme of what we do," he continued. "We know how to push one another. We have to coach each other. We're making one another and the team better as a whole."

With Allen slated to get his chance to start next season opposite Taylor, joining him in this training and mentoring is ideal for 'making one another...better.'

Another who is actually in battle for a roster spot is inside linebacker Marshall McFadden, about whom Mark Kaboly effervesced when speaking of his "power and potential." Because of some CBA technicality, 2012 wasn't an accrued season for McFadden, so he was given with an opportunity to participate in the team's rookie Minicamp, which he called a "refresher."

"When I came in last year during rookie minicamp I was struggling to understand things because it was all so new to me," said McFadden. "Coming in this year and taking that step again, it was an introduction again. It was great for me because I got a better understanding because I had a year to develop. My mind is clear enough to understand it this year. It was a great refresher for me."

"I am classified as someone that has to take a big step this year," McFadden continued. "Once the OTAs start, it can do nothing but help me by knowing what to do, playing faster, knowing where to be, where to go. This was perfect for it."

McFadden, who led the Steelers last preseason in total tackles, spent most of the 2012 on the practice squad, although he did see time on the active roster late in the year due to injuries. Don't count him out for 2013.

Then there is 23-year old, 5'10", 180-pound cornerback Isaiah Green, the second-year man out of Fresno State. Per Behind The Steel Curtain, he wants to be more than just a Training Camp body. In the article they wrote about him, and according to his Fresno State bio, Green has a "nose for the ball" all the requisite physical skills, making him another to watch in Latrobe:

"...a fast and athletic player who will is expected to see action in the secondary and on special teams ... penciled in as a starting cornerback heading into fall camp ... one of the fastest players on the team with a 4.29 40-yard dash." - http://tinyurl.com/d795cnq

Last but not least there is outside linebacker Adrian Robinson, the speed rusher from last season. We'll be focising on him in an upcoming piece.

As for the rookies, it's easy to get excited about this year's draft class. Not only because of what they will bring to the field, but also because they seem to exude what the 2012 class was bereft of: common sense and maturity.

First, there is Jarvis Jones, the southern gentleman. Shamarko Thomas, as we told you recently, will 'work hard until his hands and his feet fall off.' Plus, two others who could end up being steals and contributors this season: the Black Cat and The Destroyer.

When Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake speaks of rookie Terry Hawthorne, he tends to mention one thing fairly often: "He is fast." 4.31/40 fast.

"What I like about Terry," Lake said, "is that he has a lot of upside potential that I see in him. I think he has all the physical tools. He is big. He is fast. He doesn't mind tackling, and he can play press coverage well, kind of in the same way as an Ike Taylor."

Hawthorne himself is saying all the right things, such as his proclamation that he'll 'do whatever he can to help the team' and to turn the corner.

"I'm just trying to get my technique down," Hawthorne said. "They've been correcting me on my technique. I had bad technique. As I'm getting my technique better, they're starting to get a little more comfortable with me....It gives me a great advantage for them to correct my technique now." - http://t.co/goD1wdnudG

Another to keep your eye on is inside linebacker Vince Williams. When Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola was on the Steelers Live show this past Tuesday and was asked if any other player had caught his eye over the minicamp weekend, Williams was his focus.

"The one guy that I kind of noticed was Vince Williams," Labriola said. "He would be the second pick in the sixth round, an inside linebacker from Florida State. Vince Williams, a couple of the things that I liked about him, were first of all, it wasn't very long into the on field sessions when Vince Williams was instructing teammates about where they needed to be, and shifting and those kind of things.

"Vince Williams did a lot of the defensive play calling during his college career and it seems like he has a very high football IQ and it seemed to me," he continued, "watching from the side, that that was a little bit on display right from the beginning."

Labriola continued by expounding on the main factor that's going to get him a spot on this roster, that "he's going to make special teams coordinator Danny Smith a very happy person."

"One of the main concepts, basic concepts of playing special teams, covering kicks, is find the guy with the ball, get the guy with the ball on the ground....This is a guy who will be able to find the guy with the ball and get him on the ground on special teams plays, and that alone could make him a very valuable part of the 2013 Steelers."

Despite head coach Mike Tomlin's disputing linebacker coach Keith Butler regarding Sean Spence as to whether he'll ever return or not, between McFadden and Williams, the question as to Spence's replacement may have been answered.

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TIDBITS: This doesn't feel right as a "tidbit," but Jack Butler, the great NFL Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Steeler, died Saturday morning. He was 85. Here is the statement by the Steelers: http://www.steelers.com/news/article-1/Steelers-statement-on-passing-of-Jack-Butler/93753b20-7311-4cb8-ad60-9f339e6e6bd8

Butler was just inducted into the Hall of Fame back in August and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette said that he had never seen him so happy. About a year before he was finally recognized by the Hall, If It Ain't Steel had written about the travesty of not having this great man donning a mustard-colored jacket. We leave you with the piece written at that time as it chronicles all of his accomplishments. RIP, Mr. Butler. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2011/08/jack-butler-should-be-in-hall-of-fame.html

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Steelers hire two in the family as scouts -- Dan Colbert, Kevin's son, and Mike Butler, son of deceased HOFer Jack Butler.
The Steelers also promote Phil Kreidler to college scouting coordinator to replace Ron Highes, who stays as an adviser. Mark Bruener was also promoted and had been a BLESTO scout for a couple of years.