PITTSBURGH — The Steelers inside linebackers are certainly a topic of discussion as Vince Williams retired, Robert Spillane steps up to fill his voids, and Devin Bush returns from his torn ACL.
However, one key area has nagged the Steelers for so long defensively, and seemingly without regard to the individual personnel involved has been linebackers in coverage. The Cleveland Browns exploited the Pittsburgh defense in the Wild Card game in January, getting slot receiver Jarvis Landry against Spillane, and exploiting the mismatch.
While many attribute that weakness to schematic difficulties, it may actually be more on the personnel side with some modern football truths mixed in.
Speaking with the media on Thursday, inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky seemed very candid about what he expected from his linebackers in coverage. That includes what they can try to do to neutralize players like Jarvis Landry when the Browns spread the defense out in heavier personnel packages.
“You know, offenses try to get mismatches,” Olsavsky said. “So, someone like Jarvis Landry who is excellent inside … he can really work my guys. My guys have to be able to pound with the big boys and shake with the little guys. So, we just gotta drill it a lot. There’s a lot of little things. There are some things when you watch Jarvis play there are some tricks that he uses. Then, there are tricks we try to use. It is a cat and mouse game.”
On another play in training camp on Wednesday, Najee Harris beat Devin Bush on the boundary. In that respect, Olsavsky wants to see better pre-snap alignments and play from Bush in the red zone to try and corral those mismatches in that part of the field.
“He could have been a little initially to try and cut that off,” Olsavsky said. “You know, it’s hard when you play linebacker to not line up three or four yards away from somebody. Now, you are in that situation where you want to get as close as you can to the line of scrimmage. In that case, if you can just move up another yard, you can neutralize that threat.”
Olsavsky clearly has certain details he wants the linebackers to work on from a personnel standpoint. On Thursday, there were some similar struggles, as Spillane caught the bad side of a few plays in coverage. With Bush and Spillane seemingly set for the majority of the snaps, there are bigger issues elsewhere on the defense, especially at slot corner, but the Steelers will have to learn the lessons of their past and make sure they are fortified in the middle, as well. Getting Bush back to full health after he missed most of 2020 will certainly go a long way.