At the end of his team’s second week of training camp, Mike Tomlin acknowledged what has been apparent at Saint Vincent College, what has been obvious, really, ever since the Steelers moved on from Ben Roethlisberger.
Wherever it is the ’22 Steelers are headed, the defense will have to lead the way in getting them there.
“I think it’s a reasonable expectation for us to play great defense,” Tomlin announced on Friday during his annual Saint Vincent visit with Randy Baumann & the DVE Morning Show. “Those are our intentions.”
Not better defense or competitive defense or improved defense, great defense.
“We’re not gonna be bashful about stating that as an expectation and we’re not gonna run away from it,”Tomlin continued. “We’re gonna run to it. We have the men, not only in personnel but in schematics and coaching.
“I expect them to be dominant.”
When last season ended the Steelers’ defense was much more a disaster than dominant. It was a defense that couldn’t stop the run. It was a defense that was exploited by the Kansas City Chiefs to the tune of three touchdowns surrendered in a little over 10 minutes in the second quarter on the way to what became another playoff blowout.
But things have changed since then, starting with Roethlisberger’s retirement.
With Ben, the theory maintained, you always had a chance.
With Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett _ I’m still in the Mason Rudolph-isn’t-going-to-be-the-starter camp _ the Steelers aren’t sure what they have at quarterback.
The same can be said for an offensive line that has been reconfigured for the second time in as many seasons.
And at wide receiver, no matter how tantalizing rookies Calvin Austin III and George Pickens have been in scrimmages.
The defense, meanwhile, has been bolstered by the return to health (presumably) of Tyson Alualu, the signings of Larry Ogunjobi and Myles Jack, the promotion of Teryl Austin from secondary coach to defensive coordinator and the hiring of Brian Flores as a senior defensive assistant.
Flores was the head coach in Miami last season and has a defensive pedigree that dates back to his days as an assistant in New England.
The recent signing of Diontae Johnson aside, the money has been invested in the defense this time.
Tomlin has recognized as much previously, and he’s acknowledged that when there’s such a redistribution of the wealth, there must likewise be a redistribution of the play-making.
This time he left nothing to the imagination or to possible misinterpretation.
With all that’s been added to the defense, and with Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt leading the charge, “great” should be attainable.
And with an offense in transition, it’s the defense on which the Steelers have no choice but to lean.
“We have the men, not only in personnel but in schematics and coaching. I expect them to be dominant.”
The standard is the standard.
Anything less won’t be good enough.