Offseason Program

Defense exploring options

The commencing of OTAs included the unveiling of a potential new approach to stopping the run.

The Steelers have traditionally favored a four-man front in their sub-package defense in passing situations, with the outside linebackers lining up as defensive ends and defensive ends Heyward and Tuitt moving inside to defensive tackle positions.

The 4-3 look in the base alignment Dupree detailed following OTA No. 1 is an apparent response to the run-defense issues the Steelers experienced after losing inside linebacker Ryan Shazier last December in Cincinnati.

The nuance includes Dupree switching from the left side to the right more often than in previous seasons.

"This is going to be my first year of rotating back and forth," Dupree continued. "We know it's going to be a run sometimes. And on short-yardage situations, on check-down plays, we'll be able to rally around the ball real fast. We don't usually try to do it in a lot of pass-rush situations. We just try to do it to be able to stop the run.

"We gotta stop the run. We gotta start now, finding ways and just getting into the groove, how we're going to do it in the season."

The Steelers allowed 164 rushing yards and an average of 4.7 yards per carry in their 45-42 playoff loss to Jacksonville last Jan. 14.

"Just going off of last year, off our last game, we couldn't stop the run as a defense," safety Sean Davis said. "That threw the whole vibe of the game off.

"We do a good job stopping the run, then we'll have a better chance stopping everything else. But if you can't stop the run, the offense, they have control of the game. That's how we got beat, off our last game against Jacksonville."

Added inside linebacker Vince Williams: "We just couldn't stop the run. They were able to generate enough run where they could trick us with the play-action (pass) because we didn't know what was coming. It turned the game into a 50-50 game and they just executed."

The alterations on display at OTAs aren't limited to the deployment of the front seven.

Morgan Burnett's arrival via free agency has changed the way the safeties are referenced.

"(On Tuesday) we were 'left' and 'right,'" said Davis, formerly the strong safety when Mike Mitchell played under a free safety designation. "(Burnett) can do both positions and so can I."

Williams perceived the secondary to be "like a whole new group back there, everybody has new numbers and everything.

"I'm pretty sure they're going to get it patched up," he said. "I'm excited to see what they can do."

First, the run defense will be addressed.

That would have been the case even had the Steelers stuffed the Jaguars' running game in the playoffs.

"It's absolutely the annual starting point," Williams said. "The staple of a great defense is stopping the run. Everything works inside out. You gotta focus on stoping the run from the middle to the outsides, then you focus on the pass from there."

The former won't be accomplished merely with schematic tweaks.

"We gotta play smarter," Davis. "We can't get out-physical-ed. We're the Steelers defense. We gotta be able to stop the run."

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