Steelers’ Mike Tomlin names top three defensemen he’s coached, explains why Hines Ward remains a role model


A dozen years ago, Mike Tomlin was a 36-year-old second-year Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. This season, Tomlin presided over a dominant defense for the Steelers that led Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl XLIII victory. Tomlin, now in his 14th season in Pittsburgh, has his Steelers off to their first 4-0 start since 1979, a year that also ended with the black and gold hosting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

One of Tomlin’s defenders on that 2008 defense, former NFL cornerback and current CBS Sports analyst Bryant McFadden, spoke to his former coach on the last episode of the “All Things Covered” podcast. , moderated by Patrick Peterson and McFadden. Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is in the middle of his 10th season with the Cardinals, asked Tomlin – who was a secondary coach for the 2002 Buccaneers’ Super Bowl team – to name the top three defensemen ‘he worked with during his time in the NFL.

“Sluts [Polamalu] and [Derrick] Brooks, and then it gets tough, ”Tomlin said. “Maybe I should go Warren Sapp [No.] 99. You talk about Troy and Brooks, you talk about Hall of Fame members in the first round, when you talk about Warren Sapp, you talk about a Hall of Fame in the second round. It’s hard to argue against some of these guys. Just the routine, the scary things that I saw from these guys who work with them really got over them. This is the reason why they wear the gold jackets the way they wear the gold jackets in terms of early embedding. ”

Few will argue about Tomlin’s choices. Eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, solid safety Polamalu was also named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Brooks, 11-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro at linebacker, was named the league’s best defensive player in 2002 before returning an interception for a score in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory over Oakland.

Sapp, a defensive tackle, was the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Polamalu, Brooks and Sapp are each members of the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s.

When it comes to naming the best defense he’s been a part of, Tomlin said it’s difficult to answer that question due to the different ways that dominant defenses can gain the upper hand in games. While the defense he was a part of at Tampa Bay may not have been physically imposing, Tomlin said the 2002 Buccaneers defense was exceptional for creating splash plays, which was certainly on display in the Super. Bowl XXXVII, when the Buccaneers returned three of their five interceptions. for touchdowns beating the Raiders, 48-21. Conversely, Tomlin said the Pittsburgh defense in 2008 was a physical and intimidating group.

“We had dominant outside linebackers like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley who absolutely beat you up,” Tomlin said. “And so the ways they dominated games were so different, it’s hard to tell, but I’ve come to appreciate both. One thing I do know, you know when you’re with a dominant defensive group. who has the goods, and I think that’s what’s exciting about the group we’re working with right now. It’s really early in the trip, but they are showing signs of the group type which is the group type that has the goods. ”

While his current defense has shown flashes of being a dominant group, Tomlin could also have a new dominant receiver in rookie Chase Claypool, a second-round pick who collected four TDs in Pittsburgh’s Week 5 win. against the Eagles. Claypool looks set to join an unprecedented series of successful receivers the Steelers drafted during GM Kevin Colbert’s time in Pittsburgh. Even more impressive is the Steelers’ success when it comes to catching drafting is that the fact that Pittsburgh hasn’t passed a first-round pick on a wide receiver since being elected to select Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio. Holmes in 2006. They spent a third. round pick over Mike Wallace in 2009, third round pick over Emmanuel Sanders in 2010, sixth round pick over Antonio Brown in 2010, fourth round pick over Martavis Bryant in 2014, second round pick over receivers JuJu Smith -Schuster (2017), James Washington (2018) and Claypool and a third round pick over Diontae Johnson (2019).

“First and foremost, we’re interested in football players first,” Tomlin said of receiver scouting. “Guys who show a certain tenacity that goes beyond position, or a certain competitive spirit that goes beyond their position. ”

In Claypool’s case, Tomlin said the Steelers “fell in love” with him after seeing him work on special teams during this year’s Senior Bowl.

“This guy was special teams MVP I think of Notre Dame [during] his second year there, ”Tomlin said of the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool. “He showed an awareness of football and the things that were outside of the wide receiver position, and for us we think that’s a good indication that you ‘I have a football player and they are going to do the things the wide catcher demands. ”

Tomlin said Hines Ward, the franchise’s all-time career leader in catches, yards and touchdowns, is the plan he looks at when evaluating receivers. While Ward has racked up impressive stats over his 14 years at Pittsburgh, he’s best known for being arguably the most complete wide receiver of his time.

“This guy was a wide receiver, but he was so much more,” Tomlin said of Ward, who won two Super Bowls with the Steelers that included an MVP performance at Super Bowl XL. “He’s a bit of a standard bearer for us. We are looking for football players who play wide catcher. And Hines is just a good plan for that. A guy that I just liked at this level and who really shaped the assessment and the selection. others on the basis of this principle alone. ”

While Ward is the standard by which all new Steelers wide receivers are measured, Tomlin lives on a saying he often spoke to his players during his time in Pittsburgh. It’s a saying Tomlin uses to remind his players that no matter what challenges they face, the franchise’s noble goal of hosting a Lombardi Trophy remains the same.

“I love ‘The norm is the norm,” said Tomlin. “It’s probably my favorite because we’re not in an excuse for doing business. And if we’re not careful we’ll spend a lot of time making excuses to talk about who is available to us and who is not, the lack of fluidity in the schedules perhaps due to pandemic circumstances, etc.

“At the end of the day, we all have challenges, which is all 32 of us. Just continue with that understanding and you don’t waste a lot of time talking about your misery, you just find ways to get over it because this guy on the other side we have the same issues. We like to pretend it isn’t, but it is. We don’t want an apology, there’s a standard of waiting in Pittsburgh, and that standard is winning, and if you wear black and gold, and come out of that tunnel, you take on those responsibilities. “


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