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Pass defense addressed at both ends

Posted May 17, 2017

Steelers hope draft bolstered rush, coverage.

The Steelers drafted athletes to develop and with an agenda toward improving their defense in 2017.

“We have to improve our pass rush,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler stressed in a post-draft, one-on-one interview with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com. “The two elements of pass defense, one is covering, the other one is putting pressure on the quarterback, we hope we improved both of those aspects with this draft.”

The Steelers invested four of their eight selections on defensive players _ first-round pick T.J. Watt (linebacker, Wisconsin), third-round selection Cameron Sutton (cornerback, Tennessee), fifth-round choice Brian Allen (cornerback, Utah) and seventh-rounder Keion Adams (linebacker, Western Michigan).

“We’ll have a chance to have a pretty good defense because these guys can help us,” Butler said.

Watt has the prerequisite production and physical attributes, and also a perceived intangible advantage.

As the younger brother of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, the Steelers anticipate T.J. Watt’s transition to the NFL might be accelerated.

“I don’t think any rookies know what it takes to be in great shape until they’ve been a year in the National Football League,” Butler said. “He has a jump because his brother can tell him, he can listen to his brother, he will listen to his brother in terms of what it’s going to take. They’re training like he should be training right now.

“Most rookies will come in and think they’re in shape. They’re in shape for college but they’re not for the NFL, there’s a big difference. Sometimes, you can’t understand that until you go through it a year, so we feel like he has a little jump on it.”

Sutton was supposed to review his assignments at cornerback for Butler during a pre-draft film review at Tennessee.

Head coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert wound up coming along and Sutton ended up explaining the responsibilities of every member of the Tennessee defense on a play-by-play basis.  

“He told us what everybody on the field was doing, not just what he was doing,” Butler said. “He was impressive from that standpoint. A lot of times you can play pretty good football if you have an understanding where everybody’s supposed to be.”

Allen had a multi-position background at Utah similar to what last year’s second-round pick, Sean Davis, was exposed to at Maryland.

“He’s a big guy that’s not afraid to hit, not afraid to be physical,” Butler said of Allen. “His junior year he played some safety and he played corner, also. His senior year he just played corner.

“That’s a little bit like ‘S.D.’ last year. ‘S.D.’ was a safety and moved to corner. It kind of helps a little bit.”

Adams, likewise, has the potential to contribute in the kicking game while he develops as a defender.

“We want him to come in and help us on special teams and then see if he can develop a pass rush and develop as a football player,” Butler said.