The Steelers made moves today to fill out their staff of defensive assistants, and what they did could be an indication of how they plan to proceed.
Jerry Olsavsky was named inside linebackers coach and Joey Porter was named outside linebackers coach to replace Keith Butler, who was elevated to defensive coordinator on Jan. 13. Since Olsavsky and Porter both played and coached in the version of the 3-4 the Steelers have employed since Bill Cowher was hired in 1992, it would appear that continuity rather than radical change will be the path moving forward with the defense.
A 10th-round draft pick in 1989 from Pitt, Olsavsky played in 108 games for the Steelers over a nine-season span. He worked his way back onto the field after a significant knee injury in Cleveland in 1993 to be a starting inside linebacker for the 1995 Steelers team that played in Super Bowl XXX.
Olsavsky got into coaching as a volunteer, first at Thomas Jefferson High School in 1999 and then at Youngstown Chaney High School in 2000. In 2003 he was hired to coach linebackers at Youngstown State, and he worked there until joining the Steelers staff as a defensive assistant in 2010.
Porter was a third-round pick from Colorado State in 1999, and he grew into a fine replacement for Greg Lloyd as a rush-cover right outside linebacker for the Steelers. During his 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, Lloyd had 52.5 sacks and 10 interceptions, but Porter ended up topping that with 60 sacks and 10 interceptions during his eight seasons here.
In 2013 Porter tested the waters of the coaching profession as a undergraduate student assistant at Colorado State, and then he was hired as a defensive assistant by the Steelers in 2014.
On the day he was promoted to coordinator, Butler had this to say about whether he would consider himself a 3-4 guy: "I would consider myself a whatever-it-takes-to-win guy. If it's a 3-4, that's fine, if that fits your players. I think you have to be able to fit your defense around the players you have. With what offenses are doing nowadays in the National Football League, they're playing a lot of three wide receivers and a tight end and a running back, for the most part. In those situations, we're going to be in kind of a 4-3 anyway, but we're still going to be able to run the 3-4 also. It gives you a little bit more versatility, I think."
The Steelers defense has undergone significant roster turnover on defense, and both Olsavsky and Porter will be working with some of the young players the team is depending upon to develop into quality starters to complete a successful transformation.
At inside linebacker, the Steelers have a proven starter in Lawrence Timmons, a Pro Bowl player this past season, at one spot, but the other key players here are all still developing. Ryan Shazier was the team's first-round pick in the 2014 draft, and that carries with it some high expectations. Also getting significant playing time last season were Sean Spence, who spent a couple of years rehabilitating a knee injury even more serious than Olsavsky's back in 1993, and Vince Williams, who started 11 games as a rookie in 2013 and shared the spot next to Timmons with Spence 2014.
At outside linebacker, the Steelers will be looking for a significant contribution in 2015 from Jarvis Jones, himself a No. 1 draft pick two years ago, and they also have two developmental prospects on the roster with some pass-rush potential in Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon.
Lemon bounced around the CFL and the indoor circuit before exploding for 13 sacks, eight forced fumbles and an interception with Calgary last year. Howard Jones put together an impressive training camp as an undrafted rookie last summer, and he spent the 2014 season on the Steelers' practice squad.