Keith Butler ‘kind of encouraged’ by Steelers defense entering opener
When the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field Sunday in Cleveland, it will be 238 days since they were upset at home by Jacksonville in the AFC divisional playoffs. It will be nearly eight months since the defense allowed 164 yards rushing and yielded 38 of the Jaguars’ 45 points.
“It’s been long enough,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Thursday. “It’s going to be interesting to see how we play. I’m kind of encouraged, but we’ll see what goes on on the field.”
In the interim, the Steelers signed linebacker Jon Bostic and strong safety Morgan Burnett. They drafted safety Terrell Edmunds in the first round.
“We helped ourselves in the secondary,” Butler said. “The only thing that concerns me is we’ve missed a little bit of time here in the last two weeks with some crucial guys who are going to be playing on Sunday. We’ll see how we hold up.”
Burnett didn’t play in the final two preseason games, and Edmunds is expected to start in his place. T.J. Watt didn’t play the entire preseason but has recovered from a hamstring injury.
“There were good things that happened in training camp and things we can do better,” Butler said. “You don’t know what kind of team you’ve got until you’ve played three or four games of the season. Then you get a feel for what you can and can’t do.”
Tight end Vance McDonald was the only player not to practice Thursday, further indication that he will not play Sunday against the Browns.
McDonald was a partial practice participant Wednesday, the only activity he has seen since injuring his foot in late July.
Jesse James is expected to replace McDonald as the starter. Xavier Grimble also is expected to play after missing much of the preseason with a torn ligament in his thumb.
“Jesse has been here long enough,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I have a lot of confidence in him knowing what he is going to do and X, same thing, but anytime you can put weapons on the field, that helps you.”
McDonald has 10 catches for 122 yards in his most recent game — the divisional playoff loss in January.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.