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Senior Bowl

Steelers Hope Grady Brown Gets Inside Edge on DB Class as Senior Bowl DC

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Steelers Grady Brown

MOBILE, Ala. — Most of the Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coaches won’t pick up a clipboard and a whistle for several months after the team’s season ended earlier in January, but secondary coach Grady Brown is one of a select few that is getting right back into the swing of things.

Brown is serving as the defensive coordinator for the National Team in this Saturday’s Senior Bowl, and he had his first practice as DC on Tuesday, working his group into shape.

“It was fun to really get back at it, get back into the meeting room, have meetings, watch ball, coach ball and everything like that,” Brown said.

The Senior Bowl traditionally used the entire coaching staffs of two different NFL teams to run the event. This year, it’s different, as a select group of assistants from around the league will come together as a coaching staff. Most of those choices involve promotions for individuals to showcase their ability to coach at a higher level than they currently work.

In addition to Brown, the Steelers sent assistant outside linebacker coach Denzel Martin to Mobile. He is working as the linebackers coach under Brown.

That means that this week amounts to a trail run to see if those coaches have what it takes to progress through the ranks at the NFL level.

“All of us as assistant coaches, we’re being evaluated right now the same as the players are being evaluated,” Brown said. “We need to be able to put our best foot forward. I told the guys in the meeting that they’ll get our best effort, because this is job interviews for everybody at this point.”

Brown is not a stranger to being a defensive coordinator. He was the DC at Division III Birmingham Southern in 2016, the co-defensive coordinator at Old Dominion in 2019 and defensive coordinator at McNeese State in 2020. He just finished his second season as an NFL position coach with the Steelers, but is looking forward to climbing the coaching ladder again down the road.

“I’m a step-by-step guy,” Brown said. “So, 20-plus years of college experience, I’ve had opportunities to be a coordinator at the Division III level, the FCS level. It’s still the organization: how do you build the work week, how do you build the play call? Making the transition to the NFL and learning the game, getting a better handle on the NFL game and the differences in Year 2, my talent to be a coordinator and lead men is still there, whether I lead the secondary, about 16 guys or so, or whether I lead a side of the defense.”

Brown will only have his National Team players for a week, and the rules of the Senior Bowl prohibit blitzes and exotic coverages, so he will be limited in how much he can really show off his skills as a potential coordinator. If there’s one thing he wants to do, it’s focusing on causing turnovers. Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey caused a turnover in the live period to end Tuesday’s practice, which drew Brown’s attention.

“We got the ball out,” Brown said. “That’s the way we live in Pittsburgh. We’re going to try to get the ball out. That’s the way you’ve got to live on defense, period, in today’s game. So I was excited about that. …

“You’ve got to take the ball away. My last year playing was in ’98. The game is so different now with these offenses. In our division alone, Joe Burrow, Deshawn Watson, listen, we’ve got to take the ball out of Nick Chubb’s stomach as often as we can for us to win that game. We’re going to preach takeaways whether it’s forced fumbles or interceptions. We dropped too many interceptions today.”

Of course, the Steelers didn’t just sent Brown to Mobile for his own professional development. They’re hoping him getting an up-close and personal look at the defensive backs this week will give the team a leg up in the draft.

“They did send me here to evaluate,” Brown said. “I need to showcase my talents. I need to coach. But I need to evaluate, too. So it’s a two-fold job assignment for me.”

When it comes to the National Team defensive backs, which include Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly, Kentucky’s Keidron Smith and Maryland’s Jakorian Bennett and others, Brown is looking for not just their coverage ability, but their physicality and willingness to tackle.

“In our division, you have to tackle,” Brown said. “Cleveland is going to make you tackle. Baltimore is going to make you tackle. You’ve got to tackle Mixon. You’ve got to tackle all of those guys. It’s not just a cover situation in our defense, in our division. You have to be tough enough to be a willing tackler. If you put on film that you won’t tackle, it’s going to be hard for me to play you. …

“They’re either going to tackle or they’re not. They’ll have opportunities to tackle, and they’ll either do it or they won’t, and that’s the evaluation. They’ll either cringe, or they won’t. Now, here in person, we’re not tackling, but your approach says a lot about how you feel about the job that you have to do.”

The Steelers will almost certainly add to their secondary in some fashion this offseason, with Cam Sutton, Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee set to become free agents and William Jackson III and Ahkello Witherspoon having uncertain contract situations with regards to the salary cap. So Brown being in Mobile could be a big helping in finding players that fit the Steelers scheme, especially later in the draft.

Most of the cornerback options that the Steelers could be considering with their first round pick, including Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Georgia’s Kelee Ringo, South Carolina’s Cam Smith and Texas A&M’s Jaylon Jones, are not at the Senior Bowl.

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