PITTSBURGH — The leadership of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been settled for some time, with head coach Mike Tomlin in his customary role, Teryl Austin elevated to defensive coordinator and Brian Flores replacing Austin’s former role.
But what hasn’t been settled until now is where each of those men would be on game days.
Tomlin, of course, will roam the sidelines. Until this season, Austin had been Tomlin’s eye in the sky in the press box, helping him not only call the defense, but also serving as his point man for the replay review process — a role that he was apparently good at, as Tomlin’s success rate in challenges has skyrocketed since Austin came on board in 2019.
Former defensive coordinator Keith Butler always coached from the sidelines, though, and after trying it both ways during the preseason, Austin will do so this year, too, with Flores replacing him in the booth.
“At least in until it gets cold,” Austin joked on Thursday.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada said he prefers to call games from the booth, saying that he feels more insulated from the emotions of being on the sideline and better able to make the best play call with more information from up above.
In his first year as the de jure signal career for the Steelers defense, that’ll be an adjustment that Austin will have to make. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of the play calling Austin will do. Tomlin has monopolized that duty for much of his time as Pittsburgh’s head coach, and it’s unclear whether that will continue or if Tomlin will cede some of those duties to Austin.
We’ll also see how Tomlin and Flores get together for the replay side of that job, which Austin excelled at over the last few years.
Whoever makes the play call, they’ll be talking to one of the Steelers inside linebackers that wears the helmet with a radio speaker installed, signified externally by a green dot on the back.
Whose helmet will that be? Austin isn’t saying. Both Devin Bush and Myles Jack performed those duties during the preseason. Traditionally, that job has fallen to the Steelers’ more experienced inside linebacker, which would be Jack, or to the one that stays on the field in Dime, which very well could be Bush or even Robert Spillane, who had that role in 2021.
“Nothing’s settled,” Austin said Thursday. “We’ll figure it out on Sunday.”
For the first time in several years, the Steelers’ Thursday defensive coordinator press conference did not include a “dadgum,” Butler’s catch-all phrase that he used when he’d probably have used a stronger word if not for the television cameras posted up around him.
Austin and Butler worked together for the last three years, but he said he hasn’t heard from the Steelers’ former defensive coordinator leading up to his first game in the role.
“I think Butts is off-the-grid,” Austin said. “That’s not Butts’ way. Butts is a great dude, and I don’t think he’d ever call in and be a Monday morning criticizer or critique guy.”