LATROBE, Pa. – While growing up in Buffalo Grove, Alan Baxter became all too familiar with the Bears’ great defensive units known as the Monsters of the Midway.
However, when the Pittsburgh Steelers showed an interest in the former Northern Illinois defensive end before the 2013 NFL Draft and eventually signed him as an undrafted free agent April 27, Baxter’s thoughts quickly changed to the Steel Curtain and Hall of Fame linebackers such as Jack Lambert and Jack Ham.
“The Steelers have been known for having the best defense in the country all the time and great linebackers, so I definitely wanted to be part of that,’’ Baxter said. “I thought it was amazing when they contacted me.
“So, of course, I was happy to sign with them and learn from the best coaches and best players on defense. I think this is a great place for me. (But) I’m just taking it one day at a time and working hard and showing them what I can do. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to make some plays.’’
Since joining the Steelers, the nearly 6-foot, 240-pound Baxter has completed a rookie camp, several weeks of organized team activities and a minicamp. After a six-week break, the Steelers and Baxter are at training camp at Saint Vincent College, about 45 miles from Pittsburgh.
“Things are going real good for me so far,’’ Baxter said. “I’m settled in, and I’m really enjoying the life out here. It’s a beautiful area and a beautiful campus. I guess you could say that I’m getting accustomed to it. It’s a little bit different, sure, but it’s still about playing football.
“And that’s the same no matter where you are. I feel like we picked up right where we left off in OTAs, and we’ve accomplished a lot so far. The biggest thing I have to do is to keep working hard and try to get better every day. It’s a slow process, but I’m getting there.’’
Baxter primarily has been working at left outside linebacker where he can utilize his speed and athleticism. LaMarr Woodley is the veteran starter there, and third-year pro Chris Carter is the top backup. So, Baxter has some work to do to move up the depth chart.
“All our guys know they’re just a play or two away from getting into a game, and they have to be ready,’’ Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “But Alan’s a smart kid, and he’s been working hard. He obviously has some things to learn, but he’s made a few plays so far.’’
During one practice drill, second-round pick Le’Veon Bell slipped out of the backfield and caught a pass in the flat. Before Bell could head upfield, Baxter closed in to make the play. The practice session wasn’t live (no hitting), so Baxter needs to do the same thing when the hitting picks up later in camp and in the preseason games. Then, that same play would really stand out.
“I’ve learned so much from coach Butler in a short period of time,’’ Baxter said. “I’ve already learned a ton, so I’m excited to keep working with him. I don’t believe you should get too far ahead of yourself in this league, because you need to learn something every day and show improvement every day.’’