Big Ben impressed with 'fast' defense

PITTSBURGH -- If anyone can attest to the speed that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added on defense it is the quarterback who has practiced against the new-look unit since late last month.

“I talked to Troy (Polamalu) yesterday and I told him this is a fast defense,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “We may not have a lot of names that people know, but we’re flying around. It’s tough to go against every day out there, but it’s going to be fun to watch on Sundays.”

The signing of free safety Mike Mitchell and the drafting of linebacker Ryan Shazier could transform a defense that seemed to be a step slow last season.

That is especially true if Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round pick, progresses as much at training camp as he has during the offseason practices.

“He understands concepts and picks things up a little bit easier than most rookies,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “I don’t like to play rookies, because in defensive football there’s two things that can get you beat. One of them is missed tackles, the other is mental mistakes. Normally when you try to learn this defense, it’s going to take you a little while to do it.”

The Steelers don’t have the luxury of bringing Shazier along slowly.

Not after consecutive 8-8 seasons and a descent into mediocrity due in part to a declining defense.

“We don’t have a choice whether we can play him or not,” Butler said of Shazier. “We’ve got to play him and be faster, and we’ve got to win.”

Count Dick LeBeau among those who think the Steelers' added speed will make a difference this season.

“If we can get that speed going in the right direction people will have to identify who’s coming from where,” the longtime defensive coordinator said. “Right now at this stage of the game I’m very excited about where we are. We’ve had as good an OTAs (practices) as I’ve been a part of.”