It seems you can go home again.
At least that's the case for Steelers defensive backs coaches Tom Bradley and Teryl Austin. The two men come from different areas of Western Pennsylvania -- Bradley from Johnstown, Austin from Sharon -- but the football coaching community is a small one. And in this case, it led Bradley and Austin back together again this year when the Steelers hired the latter.
This is the second time Bradley and Austin have worked together. In 1991, Bradley, then an outside linebackers and special teams coach at Penn State, was on staff when Joe Paterno made the move to bring in a young former Pitt star who had just completed his playing career after a brief stint in the World League of American Football with the Montreal Machine.
Yes, Penn State hired a former Pitt player. That young graduate assistant? Teryl Austin.
"We’ve got a lot of confidence in Scrap (Bradley) and TA," Mike Tomlin said earlier this year. "We look forward to watching them. The interesting thing about them is they have a shared history that goes back a long, long time. I think TA was Scrap’s GA like 30, 35 years ago. You see that in how they interact in an office-like setting when they’re talking schematics and ball. It’s made the transition of Teryl into the group a more fluid one."
Now, with the Steelers having wrapped up their 10 OTA sessions here at the Rooney Sports Complex Thursday, the players are seeing how that dynamic works, as well.
Bradley is the defensive backs coach and Austin is senior defensive assistant/secondary coach, and those duties obviously mesh together well.
[caption id="attachment_838285" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Tom Bradley talks with safety P.J. Locke. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
"Having TA and Bradley in the room, they’ve both been coaching 30-plus years," said safety Jordan Dangerfield. "It’s a lot of experience. Each of them have their own technique. They bring a lot to the table. They’re smart. You’ve got to listen and take it our to the field."
Bradley spent the majority of his coaching career in the college ranks and brings a unique perspective to the team on how to handle some of the nuances of the spread formations that have trickled down from that game into the NFL, while also bringing a wealth of coaching experience.
Austin, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between the college and pro games. Both have experience as defensive coordinators and have had interviews for head coaching positions.
But Austin also has the added bonus of having been on the staff for a couple of Super Bowl teams, ironically losing that game in 2005 with the Seahawks and 2008 with the Cardinals -- both to the Steelers -- before winning one in 2011 with the Ravens.
According to the players, the two are splitting up the defensive backs duties, with each man being allowed to bring his expertise to the position room. The safeties don't report to Bradley and the corners to Austin or vice versa. It's an even split.
"We want to have the flexibility of breaking the group down in a variety of ways because sometimes circumstances dictate it," Tomlin said. "Sometimes six DBs on the field are three corners and three safeties, sometimes 6 DBs on the field are four corners and two safeties and etc., etc. Sometimes five DBs is three safeties and two corners or three corners and two safeties. We’re going to coach them all collectively and break up that teaching on a case-by-case basis, a lot of times based on the circumstances of the drills in which we got a lot of focus."
That held up through OTAs. Both Bradley and Austin took lead roles at different times when working with the defensive backs.
That will change on game days. Bradley is expected to be on the field during games. Austin will be in the booth, where he'll help Tomlin keep an eye on plays that could be challenged while also getting a bird's eye view of the defense.
"They do a little bit of both," Dangerfield said. "They do a good job of splitting it up so that we get knowledge from both guys. They’re doing a good job with that."
It could help in the long run. The Steelers ranked 10th in the NFL in passing yards allowed in 2018, but were 28th in interceptions with just eight.
Improving on those numbers is the key for the team in 2019. And neither seems to have an ego that screams he has to be the guy in charge of making that happen.
"It’s been a good duo together and helping out our group and our room," new cornerback Steven Nelson told me. "They have been coaching us up to get better. It’s been good. They mesh pretty well."
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