Back to work already

In 2020, the Steelers defense finished ranked No. 1 in the AFC in overall defense and No. 1 against the pass, while ranking No. 3 overall in total defense in the NFL, and No. 3 against the pass in the league. 

It's a statistic that would have just about any defense in the NFL feeling satisfied.

But the Steelers aren't just any defense. They are a group that expects more, wants more, wants to be the best, wants to be No. 1 overall in the NFL.

But it's a start toward that goal. And a good start at that, especially for the core of the secondary. But they know they have work to do.

"All we can do is continue to work at our craft," said cornerback Steven Nelson. "I am hoping that everybody stays healthy. I hope we have all of our core guys back so we can continue to get the job done at a high level. We have to go out there and compete like we have been doing. Since I have been here the secondary has made a huge jump from the previous years. I think that says a lot about the guys that we have. But we have to keep on doing that."

The defense came through with 27 takeaways in 2020, the second-highest total in the NFL, and were tied for first with 18 interceptions. And a lot of that is based on having better communication overall, especially on the backend of the defense.

"I saw a big difference in communication," said Nelson. "We have been together two years now and I only see it getting better. In 2020, it was a little rough in the very beginning and that had to do with not having OTAs and that period together. But that was just at the start. I think now, having the two years under our belt with the core of the secondary, we will work together even more next year.

"We get along. We have a camaraderie. It's not that we just get along on the field, we get along off the field as well. That plays a major role with having a good group."

Take a look at photographs of Steelers CB Steven Nelson from the 2020 season

The Steelers recently hired Grady Brown as the team's secondary coach, who will work with senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin, and Nelson is hoping it will result in the top ranking they are searching for.

"From what I have heard, he has a good resume," said Nelson of Brown. "He reached out to the defensive back group and introduced himself, said it's an honor to work with us as a whole. We welcomed him and will be glad to work with him. Hopefully that will help us to improve to get to No. 1 in the NFL."

It's not going to be an easy task, though, especially in the AFC North where they have to face a trio of former Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks twice a year in Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati's Joe Burrow and Cleveland's Baker Mayfield.

"They are a big challenge," said Nelson. "They all do things exceptionally well in their own right. You always have to be on your 'A' game when you play those guys. That will play a major role in how we minimize their abilities."

One thing Nelson isn't doing is wasting time preparing for the challenges 2021 will bring. He is back in Arizona where he jumped right into his offseason regime.

"I started my training back, started my diet back," said Nelson. "I am running like a well-oiled machine. I am preparing myself to be the best version of me. I am going into the last year of my contract. Not knowing what to expect, but hopefully I can be around for a long time. You hear Pittsburgh Steelers and it screams football. The city, everybody is about the football team in Pittsburgh. You feel that when you are walking around town. When everybody is about the team, that feels pretty good. There are so many great things I could say. I am just going to approach this year like I do any other year, work hard and see what happens."

And speaking of seeing what happens, that is something that he is waiting on for the NFL offseason. After going all virtual last offseason for OTAs and minicamp, Nelson said he isn't sure what to expect as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

"Everyone in our group is professional. Either way we will be able to get the job done," said Nelson. "Just being there in person helps a lot because a lot of guys like to actually see things. They like to be there rather than virtual. They work better in person.

"At this point in my career I am in the middle. I am a guy who likes to be hands on, be there, see things. But at this point I understand things, how they are supposed to work, so I can work virtual as well. And given the fact that we get to spend time with our families, it's a give and take for me. I don't mind it. Either way I will get the job done."

Just like the NFL did in 2020. Nelson said he is beyond impressed in how the league handled the pandemic and he still can't believe the season went on as planned.

"It's still disbelief," said Nelson. "I just can't believe that we made it through with everything going on. COVID hit pretty hard in March last year. Going through the whole summer, leading up to camp, you didn't know if the season was even going to begin. And then we made it the whole way through, all the way through to the Super Bowl. It shows what type of men are inside the NFL and how capable we are of getting things done."

There was one big thing, though, that he missed.

The fans.

One of his biggest hopes for 2021 is the pandemic has reached the point where it's safe to have fans back in stadiums.

"For me personally, I am a guy who feeds off that energy," said Nelson. "I am an energy guy. First couple of games it was rough for me trying to adapt. This is game day in the NFL. As a kid you go to the games, you hear the crowd. Now this is what you live for. Going out there in a quiet stadium takes the fun out of it. Hopefully we get back to some aspect of having fans next season."