When the Steelers hired Karl Dunbar as defensive line coach before the 2018 season, they weren’t just hiring a former NFL player and longtime assistant to replace legendary line coach John Mitchell.
Dunbar played for the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals and coaches for the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills and certainly knows his way around the NFL.
He also has Pittsburgh connections, having served under Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin when Tomlin was the defensive coordinator in Minnesota in 2006 and was drafted by the team back in 1990.
But the additional draw to Dunbar was his connection to one of the top collegiate programs in the country. In the two seasons he spent out of the NFL before coming to Pittsburgh, Dunbar was the defensive line coach under Nick Saban at Alabama.
A year ago, the Steelers chose defensive tackle Joshua Frazier in the seventh round out of Alabama — one of Dunbar’s former proteges. Frazier didn’t make the team, spent 2018 on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad and spent this spring playing for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF before suffering a season-ending injury.
This spring, the Steelers are trying once again to forge an Alabama connection. The team reached out in free agency and landed former Crimson Tide linebacker Mark Barron and in the sixth round of this year’s draft, selected another ‘Bama defensive lineman in 6-foot-5, 285-pound end Isaiah Buggs.
Buggs, like Dunbar, is from Louisiana, and the two forged a relationship from the very start, when Dunbar was recruiting him to join the Tide coming out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“Most definitely,” Buggs said during his introductory conference call. “The connection we had, the truth of him buying in on me and me buying in on him, just a great opportunity.”
Now, they’ll get a chance to re-kindle that relationship at the highest level.
“He’s a great coach,” Buggs said. “He’s taught me everything I know to the ins and outs. Great leader, and I’m just ready to go to work for him again. … He knows I’m a hard worker. He knows I’m willing to do anything and everything to get the job done. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Dunbar said Buggs can play both positions on the line and that the Steelers were surprised he was still available in the sixth round.
“I think he was a good pass rusher over the offensive guard,” Dunbar said. “So, that was the thing we really liked about him. … A guy who can play the 4i (technique), and a guy where we go to sub, which we do a lot of, he can get over the guard and the center and be a productive player.”
A 4i technique means the player is lining up to the inside shoulder of a tackle, shading toward the gap between the tackle and guard, which is where the Steelers play their defensive ends in their base defense.
When they move into a sub package, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt move down the line into a three and a one technique, off the outside shoulder of the center and guard.
So Dunbar thinks Buggs is a player that is talented and versatile enough to handle the exact same role as the Steelers two every-down players on the line. That’s an import factor for a backup player, and with just a couple of experienced players ahead of him in Tyson Alualu ad Dan McCullers, Buggs’ versatility has given him an inside track on a roster spot.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20
While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.
Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.
Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start
To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.
He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.
The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.
“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”
Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.
“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”
All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.
His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.
Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.
Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.
“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”
If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20
David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.
Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers