By ALAN ROBINSON
, AP Sports Writer
September 3, 2007
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- For the first time since December, the Pittsburgh Steelers practiced Monday for a game that counts. To linebacker Larry Foote, that means they can finally show everything they've got.
On defense, that is, where Foote is promising some new wrinkles that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau previously held back -- not only during training camp, but during past seasons.
"We're going to show some stuff," Foote said.
The first team to see this supposed new stuff will be the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland.
Because former coach Bill Cowher always had his hand in the defense -- he was a one-time NFL defensive coordinator -- the defense wasn't 100 percent LeBeau's own since he returned to Pittsburgh in 2004. Some of it dated to the days when Dom Capers was Cowher's first defensive coordinator in 1992 and LeBeau was the secondary coach.
But since coach Mike Tomlin took over in January -- yes, he's a former defensive coordinator, too -- LeBeau and the new head coach have huddled numerous times with the idea of meshing some of Tomlin's philosophies with LeBeau's.
The Steelers are keeping the 3-4 defense they've played almost exclusively since the 1980s. Their personnel almost requires that. But it will incorporate aspects of the 4-3 defense that Minnesota and Tampa Bay played when Tomlin was an assistant coach with those teams.
They'll also show off some of the Foote-promised new gimmicks that LeBeau, who turns 70 on Sunday, schemed up during the offseason.
Among them is an alignment in which defensive end Aaron Smith will be the only defender with his hand down; others feature defensive end Brett Keisel roaming around much like Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas did last season with Baltimore.
"You've got to pay a lot of attention to him," safety Troy Polamalu said.
Last year, Polamalu lined up anywhere from the line of scrimmage to the deep secondary. This season, Keisel is moving around, too, though he won't line up as a safety.
"I think a lot," Polamalu said when asked how much new material is in this season's playbook. "I think we had a great preseason compared to any previous one I've been part of. But it depends on how it plays out throughout the season."
The Steelers' starters allowed only one touchdown during the five exhibition games, though they never played past halftime. They found that encouraging, if only because they are still adjusting to the loss of linebacker Joey Porter, now with Miami.
But while LeBeau held back some tricks during the preseason, according to Foote, Polamalu said the Steelers pretty much showed what they have. The unknown factor is how much Tomlin will decide to inject during the season.
"I think coach LeBeau has never really hid anything from anybody," Polamalu said. "We pretty much put our whole defense in during the offseason, and every game we'll kind of tinker a little bit here, and add a few blitzes -- other than that, everything is pretty much in there. What you see is what you get."
The idea, of course, is to always keep the offense guessing what it will see. No doubt LeBeau wanted to make some changes after all that blitzing last season resulted in only 39 sacks, the third-lowest total during Cowher's 15 seasons as coach.
"Our mentality has been, and coach LeBeau's mentality has been that you have to adjust to us, we're not going to adjust to you," Polamalu said.