Steelers’ mild-mannered defensive guru a game changerby Kent Somers on Jan. 30, 2009, under Sports
TAMPA, Fla. – The Pittsburgh Steelers’ employee the Arizona Cardinals fear most in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday plays the guitar almost daily, writes songs and rarely raises his voice beyond a conversational tone.
Dick LeBeau doesn’t look like a guy who could strike fear in an opponent’s heart, but the Steelers’ defensive coordinator can cause opposing coaches more sleepless nights than a midnight pizza.
The Cardinals know that all too well. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was on the Steelers staff with LeBeau for three years, and saw what LeBeau did to his offense in practice, and to someone else’s in games.
“I don’t like Dick LeBeau very much,” Whisenhunt joked on the day after the conference championship games.
Seriously, the two men have “as special a relationship as you can have,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s not one of those guys I’m excited about facing because of what he does and what he’s meant to this game.”
The two men were coordinators together for three years with the Steelers under former coach Bill Cowher. Practices turned into tutoring sessions for Whisenhunt and his offense.
In training camp, LeBeau emptied his playbook against the offense, using blitzes and stunts that would have driven other offensive coordinators crazy. Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, now with the Cardinals, embraced it.
“Some teams go to camp and they say, ‘Can you just play a plain nickel defense until I get everyone on the same page?’ ” Grimm said. “But I’m just the opposite. Go ahead and bring it, we’re going to see it during the year, let’s start picking it up now.”
During the season, the two coordinators turned a weekly practice session into a test of wits and wills. At the end of every Wednesday practice, the Steelers used a third-down drill that consisted of five plays.
There were always winners and losers, although Whisenhunt believed Cowher, a defensive coach, often ruled in favor of that side.
“It was ultra, ultra competitive,” said Cardinals backup quarterback Brian St. Pierre, formerly with the Steelers. “That was for bragging rights and to see who ran and who didn’t have to run. That’s where some of our gadget (plays) were born.”
TAMPA, Fla. – Wide receiver Hines Ward took part in his first full-scale practice since injuring his right knee in the AFC championship game when the Steelers worked out Thursday for their Super Bowl matchup against the Cardinals.
Ward did not run at full speed as he recovers from a sprained right medial collateral ligament, but worked with the starting offense throughout a rainy practice at the University of South Florida. The Steelers worked out for nearly two hours despite rain that fell hard for 20 minutes and persisted for 45 minutes.
Ward looked “awesome,” according to coach Mike Tomlin, and is expected to play Sunday night. Ward was the only regular listed on the Steelers’ injury report this week.
“He is where I thought he would be today,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin denied any injury problem with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who appeared to be stretching his mid-torso region throughout the Steelers’ second practice of the week.
According to a Pro Football Writers Association of America pool reporter who watched practice – no other reporters were allowed – Roethlisberger threw effectively on both long and short routes, including a 40-yard throw to wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Roethlisberger was drilled in the back by a helmet during the AFC title game against Baltimore on Jan. 18, and did not leave the game, although backup Byron Leftwich hurriedly warmed up.
The starting offense and defense worked against the scout teams, as usual during a Steelers Thursday practice, with the offense spending time operating inside the 20-yard line.
Leftwich imitated Kurt Warner while running the scout team offense against the defense, with Dallas Baker filling the role of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The Associated Press