PITTSBURGH – New offensive line coach Mike Munchak was Mike Tomlin’s most significant hiring this offseason.
But his most inspiring hire may have been new defensive assistant Joey Porter.
Yes that Joey Porter, the brash outside linebacker who preyed on quarterbacks like few other in the Pittsburgh Steelers' vaunted history and owned the locker room prior to Tomlin’s arrival because of the swagger that endeared him to teammates as well as emboldened them.
“Joey always had an attitude when he played and we need some of that,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “A lot of people say that he was a loud mouth and maybe he was but he backed up that mess.”
Indeed, Porter recorded 60 sacks in eight seasons in Pittsburgh -- he is fifth on the team’s all-time list -- and he carried the Steelers through sheer force of will on the improbable run that resulted in the 2005 Super Bowl title.
Porter’s return to Pittsburgh as he embarks on his coaching career couldn’t come at a better time.
The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990. They have 71 quarterback takedowns in their last two seasons combined, and to put that total into perspective consider that the Steelers had 99 combined sacks the last two seasons they played in the Super Bowl.
Porter will work closely with the Steelers’ outside linebackers, and he could be the ideal mentor to 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones.
Jones managed just one sack last season despite starting eight games, and the Steelers need the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder to make a huge jump this year if they are to significantly improve on defense.
“I think [Porter] can help him immensely,” Butler said. “Their style of play, Jarvis might be a little different than Joey but not by much.”
Jones has spent the offseason getting stronger and Porter will surely work with him on adding pass-rushing moves to a repertoire that better have some variety this season. What also bodes well for Jones in his second season: He won’t be thinking as much when playing defense.
Jones was so overwhelmed playing in Dick LeBeau’s complex defense as a rookie, Butler said, that teammates often had to tell him where to line up.
“The great thing about playing in this defense is that it is tough to play your first year but the second year everything slows down,” Butler said. “If it slows down for him mentally it will be a lot easier for him. Hopefully that will be the case.”