NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - INSIDE SLANT
For the first time in decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to lean on offense -- not the trademark 3-4 defense -- as their calling card in 2014.
Sure, the offense has outperformed its defensive counterparts in Pittsburgh before. But in 2014, it will be expectation, not anomaly.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley lent credence to that theory on Tuesday as the Steelers huddled for mandatory minicamp.
"It's as deep a group as I've been around from top to bottom," said Haley, entering his third season as Mike Tomlin's offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh following stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs. "There are some pretty good football players who probably won't make the team. That means you have some good players."
The Steelers lost two of their top three wide receivers from last season in free agency: Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
To replace them, the Steelers signed Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Moore will take Cotchery's position in the slot, a role he performed well in as a security blanket for Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints.
Heyward-Bey is trying to make the team and is on his third roster in three seasons (Raiders, Colts). The Steelers also have two young receivers in second-year man Markus Wheaton and rookie Martavis Bryant, along with their Pro Bowler and No. 1 receiver, Antonio Brown.
"Lance Moore is a sharp, smart guy who has picked things up quick," said Haley.
Moore, who turns 31 before the start of the regular season, could shift outside if necessary but at 5-foot-9, 190, is best equipped to contend with nickel cornerbacks inside.
The starter opposite Brown is up for grabs with Wheaton the odds-on favorite. Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger praised Wheaton's offseason work to date.
"Competition is a great thing," Haley said. "It brings out the best in everybody. We're not in a hurry to make some of those decisions. We want to let it play out."
Haley, permitted to be interviewed for the first time since the end of last season, acknowledged that he is leaning toward using more no-huddle offense in 2014 after it was so successful down the stretch in 2013 with Roethlisberger at the controls.
"We've been working hard at it. That's going to be part of what we do. We don't want to just give it lip service," Haley said. "We've put a lot of time and effort into it and we'll continue that in minicamp. You can kind of see the guys getting comfortable and making progress. Ben's comfort level with them is coming along."
--Chuck Noll, the legendary coach who guided the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships, died Friday night at his home in suburban Pittsburgh. He was 82.
Paramedics responded to a call from Noll's wife, Marianne, at 9:45 p.m. ET when she found him unresponsive. Noll was declared dead 10 minutes later.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner said he died of natural causes.
Noll was reported to be under a doctor's care for an undisclosed illness. He had been suffering from back pain and heart issues, among other problems, in recent years.
As coach of the Steelers from 1969-91, Noll guided the franchise to Super Bowl wins in the 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons. In those 23 seasons, Noll's teams went 209-156-1 overall and 16-8 in the playoffs with nine AFC Central titles, making him one of the most successful coaches in postseason history.
When Noll was hired, the woeful Steelers had won only 18 games in the past five seasons and had played in only one postseason game in 34 years. In his first year, the Steelers finished 1-13, but the turnaround had begun. Three years later, the Steelers reached the AFC championship game and two years after that they won their first Super Bowl.
Less than two years after Noll retired, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1993.
"Chuck Noll is the best thing to happen to the Rooneys since they got on the boat in Ireland," said Art Rooney Jr., son of the team's founder, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Born in Cleveland, Noll played football at the University of Dayton and was drafted by the Browns in 1953. He remained with the Browns until he retired at age 28 in 1959 to take a coaching job at Dayton. But he was hired instead by Chargers coach Sid Gillman and remained there for six seasons. He then was defensive backs coach under Don Shula with the Baltimore Colts from 1966 to 1968 before taking the Steelers' job.
Noll never sought out attention or lucrative endorsement deals. Instead, he preferred a no-frills style and enjoyed his privacy. After Bill Cowher succeeded Noll as coach, he kept his distance from the team and spent his retirement years in Florida and Pittsburgh.
Noll is survived by his wife, son Chris; and two grandchildren, Katie and Connor.
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cannot wait to unleash his backfield and not just by sticking the football in their belly. Roethlisberger believes that Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, rookie Dri Archer and fullback Will Johnson have the kind of versatility that will allow the Steelers to unleash the no-huddle more often and with more effectiveness this season.
"The nice thing is we can start a series with certain personnel and we can keep that personnel on the field and go no-huddle," Roethlisberger said. "So we can try to dictate what defense comes on the field so we can get in the best play possible."
--The Steelers signed second-round draft choice Stephon Tuitt, putting all of their nine draft picks under contract.
--Cornerback Ike Taylor took a steep pay cut to return for his final season under contract and, at age 34, perhaps his final season. He agreed to drop from $7 million to $2.75 million in salary and had no qualms doing so.
"My salary is a lot of money. With anybody, it's a lot of money. I've been fortunate enough to be making a lot of money since 2005. As a player, either you are going to put your pride aside or you know that your time is coming. And that time came."
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Steelers' picks:
Round 1/15 -- Ryan Shazier, ILB, 6-1, 237, Ohio State
--Steelers bypassed more obvious needs at CB, WR to take what they believe to be a dominant playmaker with lightning quickness and 4.36 speed. He eventually will be a three-down linebacker, playing in all of their sub packages.
Round 2/46 -- Stephon Tuitt, DE, 6-5 1/2, 312, Notre Dame
--He fills a major hole at end after the departures of Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and the loss of Brett Keisel. He should become the rare exception as a regular starter as a rookie in Dick LeBeau's defensive line, the first since Casey Hampton in 2001.
Round 3/97 -- Dri Archer, RB/WR, 5-8, 173, Kent State
Todd Haley always has had a small, quick, fast do-it-all back for a change of pace and to add some intrigue to his offense. Archer ran a 4.26 40. They plan to use him all over the place, plus on kick returns.
Round 4/118 -- Martavis Bryant, WR, 6-4, 211, Clemson
--Ben Roethlisberger finally gets his tall receiver, provided he can overcome a bad rep for work ethic and hands. Steelers say he has a chance to start. Good speed at 4.46 for a big man.
Round 5/157 -- Shaquille Richardson, CB, 6-0, 194, Arizona
--Many predicted they would draft a corner in first round. It's a big need for them and he will have a chance if he shows anything. Not very fast at 4.5, but good tackler and Ike Taylor is 34.
Round 5/173 -- Wesley Johnson, OL, 6-5, 297, Vanderbilt
--Versatile player who started 51 games, mostly at tackle but some at center and guard and that attracted him to the Steelers. Durability also an asset for a team that has had many injured linemen the past few years.
Round 6/192 -- Jordan Zumwalt, ILB, 6-4, 235, UCLA
--Played inside and out in college; Steelers will put him inside, where it is suddenly crowded after him and first-round pick, Shazier. Vince Williams, sixth-rounder last year, started as a rookie inside.
Round 6/215 -- Daniel McCullers, NT, 6-7, 352, Tennessee
--Steelers want their nose tackles to eat up blocks and McCullers is big enough to eat up several. He is the biggest man on their roster right now. A little tall for nose tackle, so playing low will be a test for him.
Round 7/230 -- Rob Blanchflower, TE, 6-4, 256, Massachusetts
--Blanchflower joins a crowded field of five tight ends, but the Steelers kept four on the roster last season so there is room for him to make the team. In Pittsburgh, tight ends must block first.
TRANSITION PLAYER: LB Jason Worilds (tendered at $9.754M; signed tender March 4).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--WR Plaxico Burress (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Felix Jones (not tendered as UFA).
--DE Brett Keisel (not tendered as UFA).
--P Mat McBriar (not tendered as UFA).
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Stevenson Sylvester (not tendered as UFA).
--C/G Fernando Velasco (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Jamaal Westerman (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Ryan Shazier (1/15): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Stephon Tuitt (2/46): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB/WR Dri Archer (3/97): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Martavis Bryant (4/118): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Shaquille Richardson (5/157): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T/G Wesley Johnson (5/173): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Jordan Zumwalt (6/192): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Daniel McCullers (6/215): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Rob Blanchflower (7/230): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Will Allen: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Michael Palmer: UFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Cody Wallace: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LS Greg Warren: UFA; terms unknown.
--OL Guy Whimper: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Jason Worilds: Transition FA; $9.754M/1 yr.
--RB LeGarrette Blount: UFA Patriots; $3.85M/2 yrs, $950,000 SB.
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: UFA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Brice McCain: FA Texans; terms unknown.
--S Mike Mitchell: UFA Panthers; terms unknown.
--LB Arthur Moats: UFA Bills; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--WR Lance Moore: FA Saints; $3M/2 yrs.
--P Adam Podlesh: FA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Cam Thomas: UFA Chargers; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--CB Curtis Brown (released).
--T Levi Brown (released).
--S Ryan Clark: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Jerricho Cotchery: UFA Panthers; 2 yrs, $2.25M SB.
--RB Jonathan Dwyer: UFA Cardinals; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--LB Larry Foote (released).
--DE Ziggy Hood: UFA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--TE David Johnson: UFA Chargers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C/G Eric Olsen: Not tendered as ERFA/Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Emmanuel Sanders: UFA Broncos; $15M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
--LB LaMarr Woodley (released/post-June 1 designation)
--DE Al Woods: UFA Titans; terms unknown.