NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dick LeBeau is more than happy to talk about the challenge of defending Ben Roethlisberger and the high-powered Steelers.
The 80-year-old coaching legend will even joke about never having been to the visitors’ locker room at Heinz Field before.
The emotions of returning to Pittsburgh to coach against the Steelers (7-2) where he spent 16 seasons over two stints?
”I’m trying not to think at all about anything except the Titans getting ready to play a big football game,” LeBeau said Tuesday.
”I think both teams have won four in a row. It’s going to really be a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Not for the Tennessee defensive coordinator who’s returning to Pittsburgh for the first time since he resigned as Steelers defensive coordinator in January 2015. That was after his second stop from 2004 to 2014 where the Steelers won two Super Bowls with LeBeau as coordinator.
Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said he’s pretty sure this return trip will be emotional for LeBeau.
”He won’t tell us that, and he won’t tell you guys that,” Orakpo said. ”I’m pretty sure this one means a lot to him. I think it’s his first time playing there since he’s been gone … We want this one for him.”
Many of the Steelers are looking forward to seeing LeBeau again – personally.
”He’s not the type of guy you want to see in a headset on the other sideline,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said.
”In the midst of their four-game run, it is quintessential run. They are taking the ball away. They are minimizing the run game. They are making the explosion and splash plays that is a signature of his ball. That is a significant reason why they are 6-3 and division leaders.”
Kevin Butler replaced LeBeau as coordinator and remains good friends with LeBeau. Butler noted the Steelers thought they might see the Titans in the playoffs last season except the Titans didn’t qualify.
Seeing LeBeau on the opposite sideline will be awkward in a relationship so competitive Butler says he makes LeBeau putt out when they play golf together.
And yes, the Steelers still use some of what LeBeau installed as coordinator. How much? Butler isn’t saying.
”We’d be fools not to do what we did before we were successful,” Butler said. ”We’re top five in the league in defense for a long time when he was a coordinator, so it would be foolish for us not to use some of the same stuff he used. Sometimes people catch up with it so you kind of have to tweak it here and there.”
Roethlisberger is expecting LeBeau to throw everything at him, along with something the Steelers quarterback doesn’t know. Roethlisberger called LeBeau probably one of the best defensive coordinators and even better people he’s ever met.
”It was so much fun to be on his team and watch what he did to other quarterbacks,” Roethlisberger said. ”I don’t think it’s going to be as much fun going against him.”
LeBeau isn’t buying into Roethlisberger’s flattery.
”To show him something he’s never seen before, I think that’s an impossibility,” LeBeau said. ”But we’ll try to disguise and try to make him read us after the snap. He’s a great diagnostician. He really can take a look at you and find out where you’re going, and it’s part of the reason he’s been so successful.”
Of course, LeBeau hasn’t changed much of how he calls a defense in Tennessee. Titans coach Mike Mularkey says LeBeau is pretty confident in what he’s doing, especially after the success he’s had in his career.
”There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel,” Mularkey said.
NOTES: Only QB Marcus Mariota (ankle), TE Delanie Walker (forearm) and LG Quinton Spain (toe) were on the injury report Tuesday, and all three practiced. Spain is expected back Thursday night after missing two straight games.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves and freelance writer Dan Scifo in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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