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Mike Tomlin names the top three defensive players that he's ever coached


(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)


Earlier this week, Mike Tomlin was on "All Things Covered" with his former player Bryant McFadden and current Cardinals' cornerback Patrick Peterson. Tomlin talked about several topics covering the greatest defenses that he's coached in his NFL career, the three top defensive players that he's ever coached, what makes the Steelers so great at drafting wide receivers, and the lack of minority head coaches currently in the league.


One of the most dominant defenses that Tomlin coached was the 2008 Steelers' defense who ranked first in points allowed (13.9), first in yards per game (23.7.2), first in yards per play (3.9), first in passing yards per game (156.9) and second in rushing yards allowed per game (80.3).


"I think defenses dominate in different ways, man. Some of the early defenses that I had here in Pittsburgh like the '08 Super Bowl-champion defense that B-Mac was a part of, man that was a kick-ass defense," Tomlin said when Peterson asked him who was the greatest defense that he's ever coached. "Meaning that we were going to win the line of scrimmage and beat you up and win by attrition that way. Some of the defenses that I happened to be a secondary coach for down in Tampa and we won the World Championship (2002), man, we were athletes, we created turnovers, we got after the passer. We didn't necessarily beat you up physically, but we won by making splash plays.


"It's really tough to distinguish which one is more effective because we had great players, Hall of Fame players who were built differently and we constructed the defenses to fit their skill set. We had Derrick Brooks down in Tampa and that guy was a Gazelle, he looked like the animal that he hunted. He was like the feature running back, he'd come out of games with the ball in his hands just about every week."


Tomlin talked about how it all started with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the 2008 Steelers' defense. Harrison and Woodley combined for 27.5 sacks in 2008, 16 sacks coming from Harrison and 11.5 sacks by Woodley.


"We had dominant outside linebackers like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley that absolutely beat you up," Tomlin said. "And so, the means that they go about dominating games was so different, it's tough to distinguish, but I've learned to have an appreciation for both. One thing I do know, you know when you're with a dominant defensive group that's got the goods, and I think that's what's exciting about the group that we're working with right now. It's really early in the journey, but they're showing signs of the type of group that can be the type of group that's got the goods."


Peterson followed up by asking Tomlin who are the top three defensive players that he's coached either as a head coach or assistant in the NFL.


"Troy (Polamalu) and (Derrick) Brooks, and then it gets tough," Tomlin said. "I might have to go Warren Sapp, (No.) 99. You're talking Troy and Brooks, you're talking first-ballot Hall of Famers, you're talking Warren Sapp, you're talking about a second-ballot Hall of Famer. It's tough to argue against some of those guys. Just the routine, freaking things that I saw from those guys the years that I worked with them really made them a cut above. That's the reason why they wear the gold jackets in the manner of which they wear the gold jackets in terms of early enshrinement."


Under Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have been the best team at drafting wide receivers in the league. No matter what the round is, Colbert always finds a diamond in the rough. In fact, the last time the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the first round was 2006 when they selected Santonio Holmes at 25 overall. Here's a list of some of the wide receivers that the Steelers have drafted since the Holmes selection -- Mike Wallace (third round) in 2009, Emmanuel Sanders (third round) and Antonio Brown (sixth round) in 2010, Martavis Bryant (fourth round) in 2014, JuJu Smith-Schuster (second round) in 2017, James Washington (second round) in 2018, Diontae Johnson (third round) in 2019 and Chase Claypool (second round) in 2020.


Claypool, the latest star wide receiver that the Steelers have drafted, is coming off a four-touchdown performance against the Eagles last Sunday, the first rookie in franchise history to score four touchdowns in a game and is the first Steeler since Roy Jefferson scored four touchdowns against Atlanta on Nov. 3, 1968.


"First and foremost, we're interested in football players first," Tomlin said about evaluating wide receivers. "Guys that show a certain toughness that goes abo