Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler returns for his 9th season with the Black and Gold in 2011. He is thought by many to be the heir apparent to Defensive Coordinator Dick Lebeau should retirement call Lebeau any time this century. Butler has certainly displayed his loyalty to the franchise by turning down appealing job offers across the league to remain with the Steelers, and his input on the team's defense and their schemes are significant. I had a chance to chat privately with Butler at the lunch room at St. Vincent College in Latrobe on Saturday, and here's what he had to say on a number of subjects:
On the contracts his starting OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have signed:
I've told them I'm glad for them, you know as a player in 1982 and 1987 that's what we struck for to make sure future guys can take care of their families probably a little bit better and I'm happy for LaMarr, he deserves it. I told them if they stay in my room long enough they're going to get paid. But that comes with responsibility, you know, there's the old saying 'to much is given, much is expected.' There's a lot expected in our room and expectations are high every year and they should be, we have good players. The linebackers mean a lot in terms of how our team plays every week. They understand that and they embrace it.
On the expectation that coaches across the NFL will be dramatically changing their playbooks this season:
They can't do that, I don't think you can do that. The thing that's going to be tough is if you're a new regime and you're trying to put in two systems, an offensive and a defensive system that's totally different from what they had last year. I think some people will try to meld systems, keep the terminology the same and just call the defense what they've been calling it so their players can better understand it. You've got to simplify things and try to run as much as you can in preseason to see where you're at. I'm glad we don't have that problem.
On whether the Steelers defense can and will add new things:
We're going to do what we do, I mean we're going to install our defenses based on the frequency that we ran them last year, that's what we've always done. We might look at a couple new things here or there but it's easier on us than it is on most people.
On the progress of OLB Jason Worilds, last year's 2nd round draft pick:
Jason still has got a lot to learn. He's learning the defense well, but he's got to learn to finish some things. He's got a god-given ability to burst to the ball, but he doesn't use it all the time and it's my job to get him to use it. A little bit of it is [understanding the defense] and some of it is just a sense of urgency. I've got to change that in him a little bit.
On the progress of ILB Stevenson Sylvester, a 5th round draft choice from 2010:
I think he can [help us] but he's still learning. He's got to figure out where his help is in the defense, and once he does that he'll be even better. He's a very smart young man but he's still got a lot to learn. He's probably ahead of where most second-year guys are mentally and learning how to run it. I'm throwing a lot at him, making him learn three different positions, but he has to be in position now to learn what he's supposed to be doing and using the guys and knowing where those guys are.
On whether Lawrence Timmons can play OLB in case of injuries:
Lawrence can, but I would rather not do that with him. I'd rather keep him at inside linebacker and let him get better and better at that. But there's no doubt that if we have to have another guy outside he can do that. Hopefully Jason [Worilds] takes that option off the table for us. If he doesn't, he doesn't, but that's what we're looking for from [Worilds] this year.
On if the Steelers are ready to play a preseason game in less than a week:
I don't know if anybody's ready for the first game if they ain't been doing anything for a long time, so we'll see. The Washington Redskins, they got no advantage on us, everybody's starting from the same level, so it shouldn't be a big deal. We want to see these young guys and we want to see those guys tackle because we're not tackling yet. We'll scrimmage a little bit at the goal line, but we're not going to tackle the whole time we're [at camp] so it makes a difference when everything's live and you're tackling.
On whether he can trust James Harrison to be honest regarding his back injury:
He's a grown man, he can tell me when he's hurt and when he's not. I've always told him, 'I don't know what you don't tell me.' So he's got to tell me and let me know if his back is bothering him. We want to make sure he's ready for the first game of the season not the first preseason game. He communicates with us. He's not a dumb man, although a lot of people might think he is by some of the things he says [laughs]. But he communicates with us.