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Steelers defense should benefit from Patrick Queen-DeShon Elliott bromance that began in Baltimore

Brian Batko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — It was a run-of-the-mill session of individual drills during Pittsburgh Steelers OTAs when Patrick Queen caught a glimpse of DeShon Elliott out of the corner of his eye.

Elliott did something — maybe misplayed a pass, dropped a ball or simply ran too close to where the inside linebackers were working — and Queen let him hear about it. It was good-natured, to be sure, and Elliott gave it right back to his former teammate from 2020-21 with the Baltimore Ravens.

"I love that, because I chirp back at him," Elliott said with a smile. "We hang out a lot off the field. We were just playing putt-putt together a couple days ago. I beat him — very bad. I love him to death, like a brother."

Elliott, 27, and Queen, 24, only spent those two years together in Baltimore but hit it off to the point that their reunion in Pittsburgh is no coincidence. When Elliott saw that Queen agreed to a contract with the Steelers on the second day of free agency, he decided he wanted to be here, too, and signed with the team about 48 hours later.

It's not exactly a pitcher-catcher relationship in baseball, but having an inside linebacker and strong safety with a close relationship can't hurt for a defense aspiring to be elite — pre-snap communication, a look here or a glance there, and even just the confidence that comes with knowing who has eyes behind you and who's playing in front of you on any given high-leverage down.

"Most definitely, I know he's got my back with whatever," Queen said on the last day of minicamp. "If I need him to go down and make a play or cover somebody for me or vice versa, we can do that for each other."

But Queen won't let Elliott get all the glory when they hang out in their spare time. While he doesn't deny he came out a loser in minigolf, Queen insists he has no trouble beating Elliott in pool.

The Steelers have been behind the 8-ball at linebacker since Ryan Shazier's career ended abruptly, which is why they were comfortable investing $41 million over three years with nearly $14 million fully guaranteed for Queen. Coming in with those expectations, Queen said he wants his chemistry to extend beyond just his old pal Elliott. He planned to send a group text to the whole defense with an open invitation to spend time with him between minicamp and training camp.

"I even told Russell [Wilson] if he wanted to come down to the crib, go fishing or whatnot, he's more than welcome to," Queen said. "It's really for anybody if they want to come to Louisiana and hang out."

Queen knows he'll be wearing the green dot on his helmet, which means he'll be the quarterback of the defense with the coaches in his ear, trusting him to relay the calls to the rest of his unit. Mike Tomlin called him "just a good, well-rounded football player" and added that Queen displayed that over the three days of minicamp.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has already seen Queen's ability to cover, blitz and do all the little things to keep up with what the offense is doing at the line of scrimmage. Both of the highest-ranking members of the team's defensive brain trust know Queen will be tested more in the environment training camp presents, but acknowledged his football IQ on top of the obvious physical gifts that made him a first-round pick in 2020 out of LSU.

 

"It brings calmness to everybody," Austin said. "When that guy is the 'green dot,' and he's making all the calls, and he's there every time, that settles things down. It can get a little erratic sometimes with who's calling and who's got it. There's been times we've had to send it in from the sideline. There's been times we had different guys doing it. So, I think when you have that one, steady person, that's really calming for the defense."

The Steelers already have the maniacal T.J. Watt and powerful Cam Heyward, whose motor runs hot. Joey Porter Jr. is an excitable lock-down cornerback, and Damontae Kazee plays with reckless abandon when he's in at safety.

Elliott is here to bring the kind of physicality at the safety spot the Steelers tradition is built on but has been missing at times for the better part of a decade. He might be their hardest-hitting strong safety in recent memory, and Austin noted his professionalism, mentality and versatility from tackling to coverage.

"He's a good striker," Austin said. "He brings some toughness in that secondary, where he's going to get down in there, and he can punish some ball-carriers."

Easy-going away from the field, Elliott should be a perfect partner for Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end. Matching up with tight ends, playing closer to the box to free up Fitzpatrick for center field, and using his AFC North experience to his advantage are tools Elliott brings to the table.

When he wasn't talking down on Queen's putt-putt skills — or lack thereof — Elliott sang his praises as someone worth following. Even Austin referred to the Steelers as being able to "build around" Queen, though obviously, most of this defense's pillars are already in place.

"One of the big reasons I'm here is because of PQ," Elliott said. "We've been friends since his rookie year. He was a young buck back then. He's seasoned, he's smart, he's physical, and he's a playmaker."

The feeling is mutual.

From Ravens to Steelers, Queen and Elliott together can enjoy being villains in one city and heroes in another. Working in tandem to elevate the defense in Pittsburgh would be the best way for their NFL journeys to come full circle.

"That's my guy," Queen said on the final day of minicamp. "I'd do anything for him. He'd do anything for me. We just know that, and that's why we play so well together."


(c)2024 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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