The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Friday that they would be hiring Teryl Austin to be the teams senior defensive assistant and secondary coach. While this sounds like an unusual title, it is. That is because it is signifying another bit of a shift that may not look major on the surface, but will have important effects underlying.
The title is a senior defensive assistant because they did not want to name him co-defensive coordinator. They also did not want to fire Keith Butler, considering he has been a strong linebackers coach in the organization for years. So while it may not be called a demotion, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettes Gerry Dulac has hinted strongly that Butler will not lose his job, but rather take on the responsibilities that were left behind from Joey Porter, while also losing a bit of responsibility regarding play calling.
The article did not say it was a demotion and did not say that Butler would flat out lose play-calling. However, it did note that Mike Tomlin and secondary coach Tom Bradley will have a say in the play calling as well.
Reading between the lines it looks as though Mike Tomlin is going to call plays next season for the first time since he was with the Minnesota Vikings.
The addition of Austin and demotion of Butler gives him an ironclad coaching corps on all levels. Keith Butler has called plays in Pittsburgh but has had his most success working with linebackers.
Tom Bradley coached linebackers, defensive backs and called plays at both Penn State and UCLA. The game is shifting to more of a college environment. He will get his say in, but will exclusively work with the safeties, who are on the field more often in the new NFL.
With Bradley adding a bigger say in game planning, and focusing on the safeties Austin can micromanage the cornerbacks. Of course, Austin has also called played at an NFL level for eight years to go on top of three years as the Baltimore Ravens defensive backs coach.
While his stint in Cincinnati did not end well Austin was a hot commodity the season prior after doing excellent work developing Darius Slay with the Lions.
Mike Tomlin now has the help and assistance of three past play callers to help with game planning and decision making when it comes to linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, three important spots in this pass-heavy league.
Mike Tomlin now has the pieces to put together the right gameplan, and with all three focused on their specific positions, Tomlin will take that information and call plays.
Time will tell how big the changes are and when they come. The Steelers do not have the personnel to run the defense they want to as of right now. This offseason will give us an interesting look into where all of these former play callers think the direction of this defense should head.