'He's quick to key and trigger'

LATROBE, Pa. _ Inside linebacker Kwon Alexander looked right at home in Tampa, but Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wasn't ready to confirm Alexander has turned back the clock, in part because Austin doesn't remember exactly what time it was back then.

"I do not remember him before the injury," Austin acknowledged today at Saint Vincent College. "I know he was a really good player but I didn't study him at that point. He's doing great for us, that's all I care about now.

"He moves, he's quick, he's decisive, so I think he brings some suddenness and some spunk to that (inside linebackers) room."

Alexander brought the same to the Steelers' preseason opener on Friday night against the Buccaneers, the team he'd played for from 2015 into 2018 after entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick out of LSU.

On his first snap he stuffed running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn for a gain on 1 on third-and-2 from the Buccaneers' 33-yard line on the game-opening possession.

Alexander also dropped Vaughn for a 1-yard loss the second time the Buccaneers had the ball.

A subsequent tackle in the flat on a short pass to running back Chase Edmunds produced another TFL for Alexander, but also a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness (the correct call, in Austin's estimation, because Alexander led with the crown of his helmet).

All were examples of the aggressiveness Alexander has played with since joining the Steelers shortly after training camp began.

"He's quick to key and trigger, and that's a good thing," Austin emphasized. "We'll just continue to work him, let him get more comfortable in our scheme and the tings that we're doing, and I think we'll just continue to see improvement from him."

Alexander, 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, was a member of the NFL's All-Rookie Team in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl in 2017. But a knee injury ended his 2018 season after just six games.

He spent time with the 49ers, the Saints and the Jets before the Steelers became Alexander's fourth team in the last four seasons this summer.

Take a closer look at scenes from the Steelers' Week 1 preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Alexander is here as a part of a continuing makeover at the inside linebacker position.

He was preceded by veteran additions Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, among others.

Holcomb and Roberts started Friday night's 27-17 victory over the Buccaneers.

Alexander replaced Roberts for the third defensive snap of the game and opened the next three defensive series at inside linebacker along with Holcomb.

"All we care about is what they do when they get here," Austin said. "We don't care where they were before.

"We evaluate them independently on what they do here. And so far what (Alexander) has done here has been pretty encouraging."

Austin was also encouraged by, among other things, situational aspects of the Steelers' defensive performance in Tampa.

"I thought our guys did a fairly good job on third down, third-and-shorts," he said. "Fourth-and-short, we really kinda got after that, so I was happy to see that.

"I think the run, the per-carry average was good (2.5, 66 yards on 22 attempts), that was something we look for in terms of keeping the runs down. And then third down overall, counting third and fourth down they were maybe 25 percent (4-for-16, including 4-for-14 on third down).

"Those are winning stats and things we'd like to continue, as we move into the season, be really good at."