By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Mercifully, the Steelers finally have broken ranks and have five weeks or so to exhale before reuniting in Latrobe. There's a lot to ponder between now and training camp at St. Vincent College.
The Steelers have become a much different team than the one that beat Cincinnati in overtime in Bill Cowher's final game on New Year's Eve, although not quite in the manner that initially was expected.
The defense, somewhat surprisingly, has remained committed to the 3-4, but radical alterations have nonetheless taken place under Mike Tomlin. It's not a switch to the 4-3 that has turned things upside down, but the adaptation of an apparent anything-goes approach on third down.
And the offense, which seemed in line for a complete makeover upon new coordinator Bruce Arians' declaration that he's a "three-tight end guy," has been simplified rather than revolutionized. The most intriguing development is what's happening on defense.
It seemed innocent enough when Brett Keisel spoke in late April during the first of two minicamps about the Steelers' intention to experiment with him as an Adalius Thomas-type rover.
But by the conclusion of the organized team activities last week, Keisel wasn't the only one jumping around on defense. Rian Wallace was doing it. So was rookie LaMarr Woodley. Even veteran defensive lineman Travis Kirschke was getting into the act, and rookie Lawrence Timmons appears destined to do it if he can ever get healthy enough to practice.
It used to be that the Steelers played either a 4-1-6 or a 4-2-5 defense on third downs, and that Troy Polamalu was the only one who had a little pre-snap fun.
Now, it's difficult to tell what the Steelers are doing and whom they're doing it with, which apparently is the whole idea.
"It really does give the offense hell," Keisel said. "We're playing a 2-3-6, a 3-2-6, a 1-5-5, all kinds of things.
"We've got a lot of things we're running around with right now. It's been really exciting watching them unfold, and watching (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau's wizardry come through."
LeBeau apparently has advanced from master strategist to mad scientist, at least in obvious passing situations.
His wizardry includes Keisel covering receivers, such as Nate Washington, on occasion.
Call it the Baltimore factor.
"I think the whole league saw that," Keisel said of the Baltimore Ravens' ability to disguise, deceive and destroy on defense. "It's gonna be cool. I hope we run it a lot."
Those running the Steelers' offense suddenly have much less to digest.
"When you had five coordinators' offenses in the playbook, it can be like Chinese," Arians said. "It was hard for me to learn it when I came here. I'd see something and ask, 'Why would we call that?' Well, that's what we called when so-and-so was the offensive coordinator.
"Bill (Cowher) wasn't going to take some things out of that playbook that he liked. There were things in there we hadn't called in four years, but they were still in there."
They're gone now, the playbook having been thinned in a fashion that might make Kirstie Alley envious.
"Now, a younger player or a 'need' pickup off the waiver wire has a chance to learn your offense and play on Sunday," Arians said.
What'll they think of next?