PITTSBURGH — New Steelers cornerback Levi Wallace is coming over from what is a stingy Buffalo defense. It is a defense that plays a lot of man coverage and is pesky. Wallace was just named the 8th-best man coverage defender in the NFL by NFL.com, and so that scheme fit was perfect for the Alabama product.
Wallace is not trying to emulate what he did in Buffalo in Pittsburgh. His skill set is similar to that of Joe Haden, who he projects to replace. But Wallace comes into Pittsburgh having to learn different rules and a lot of changing coverages. It is a challenge that Wallace is embracing and having a lot of fun with while he is trying to form bonds with his new teammates. In fact, they are helping him learn the playbook, thus forming those bonds.
“It’s totally different, honestly,” Wallace said. “It feels good, though. It’s a fresh look at how offenses want to attack defenses. The learning is a little different, but I feel this defense is pretty good. It’s fairly easy, so it’s all about getting reps and feeling comfortable with that for me. The other guys are helping out, too. So, that’s helping.”
In the secondary, communication is everything. Wallace is working to build those bonds because oftentimes at cornerback and safety, those bonds of understanding one another or a lack thereof, can bleed onto the field. So far, Wallace feels extremely welcomed and is feeling warm energy from the room. In the meeting rooms, in particular, Wallace is experiencing the coaches and players breaking down stuff just a little bit more to help him.
“This is a great group of guys,” Wallace said. “So far, with the guys I’ve met, they’re helpful. Everyone works like it’s a collective here. They’re really easy to talk to as well. There are no egos in the room. It’s so easy to come into this room and let them get to know me and allow me to get to know them.”
If there are a few things that Wallace can take from Buffalo, it is the solid fundamentals that they have taught him. The Steelers are not entirely different in some of the ideals they embrace philosophically at the position. While the differences are there schematically, Wallace feels his base fundamentals have eased his transition into Pittsburgh thus far.
“I think you have base fundamentals that you rely on,” Wallace said. “That’s no matter what the defense is. You should then base coverages off of that. At the end of the day, I’m still a football player and I want to be a playmaker. That’s what it comes down to. You understand that and how to maximize your opportunity to makes plays for myself and the team.”
Wallace has played all over the defense, including in the nickel, during his time with the Bills. He will likely be more static with the Steelers, who do not shift around their secondary all that much. That is for the purposes of communication, but the Steelers do not even shadow top receivers.
In other words, Wallace will not be following around Ja’Marr Chase, if that is what Pittsburgh thought would be for the best. Instead, they shift coverages. The Steelers will slide double teams one way or another. In addition, bracket coverages, with a safety coming over the top to take away a receiver, will switch sides. The Steelers really just make strength and weak-based calls. Wherever there are more receivers lined up to one side of the formation, that is where their shifts and pushes will go towards.
That allows Wallace some more freedom to play loose in the Steelers system. There are complicated play calls, but once a player has the playbook down, it is really just football. As such, throughout the Summer, that is the aim that Wallace is working towards by the time the season rolls around.
“You know, there are a lot of different play calls, but at the end of the day, this is football,” Wallace said. “They brought me in here to make plays. I want to play fast. That’s what I intend to do.”
In his four years in Buffalo, Wallace racked up 30 pass deflections and six interceptions. In each of the last three seasons, Wallace has more than five pass deflections and two interceptions. He will compete with Ahkello Witherspoon and Cam Sutton for outside cornerback snaps throughout training camps.