Steelers looking for another Super Bowl run

The Pittsburgh Steelers followed a rare Super Bowl defeat with

something just as unusual for one of the NFL’s most stable and

well-behaved franchises: A bumpy offseason in which the defending

AFC champions made headlines for nearly all the wrong reasons.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall angered some by tweeting his

frustration about what he considered an uncivilized response to

Osama bin Laden’s death.

Linebacker James Harrison lashed out at NFL Commissioner Roger

Goodell in a Men’s Journal magazine article, calling him a

”crook” and ”the devil.”

Veteran wide receiver Hines Ward used his nimble footwork to win

”Dancing with the Stars” only to have his image take a hit a few

weeks later when he was arrested on a drunk driving charge in

Atlanta.

Though Mendenhall and Harrison later apologized and Ward

maintains his innocence, their missteps aren’t exactly the kind of

behavior that’s become the standard in a city that prefers its

Steelers to be hardworking on the field and quiet off it.

”Obviously we probably have got more negative attention than

anything,” said safety Ryan Clark. ”Right now we just want to lay

low and play football. I think we’ve done enough talking and been

in the media enough.”

While Pittsburgh was the lone NFL team to shoot down the new

collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, the

Steelers did it merely as a protest vote. They’re only too eager to

get back to work and wipe away the bitter taste of the 31-25 loss

to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.

The NFL lockout gave them plenty of time to stew. Some players

watched it repeatedly. Others refused to pop it in the DVD player.

None of it matters now.

”You just try to move on, be done with it and hope it drives

guys even harder to get that third Super Bowl win for this group,”

said defensive end Brett Keisel.

A group the front office tried to keep intact.

While the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots made

splashes during the shortened free agency period, Pittsburgh opted

to focus on keeping the homegrown players that have led them to

three Super Bowls in the last six years.

Cornerback Ike Taylor agreed to a four-year deal. Popular

offensive lineman Willie Colon agreed to a five-year contract and

the team avoided losing linebacker LaMarr Woodley to free agency by

extending his contract through 2016.

Other than the late arrival of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery

from the New York Jets, the Steelers will look very much the same

as they did a year ago. Considering they went 12-4 with the

league’s top scoring defense and an offense that remains young at

key positions, that’s not a bad thing.

”We feel we’ve got a lot of room to improve,” said quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger, who was married just before the start of

training camp. ”But we’ve got a lot of weapons, too. I’d say we’re

as loaded as we’ve been since I’ve been here.”

Wide receiver Mike Wallace is coming off a breakout season in

which he averaged more than 20 yards a catch and is predicting he

can get to 2,000 yards if he gets the ball enough. Second-year man

Antonio Brown is among the fastest players in the league and

Mendenhall thinks he can build off his 1,273 yard, 13-touchdown

performance last season.

The team’s identity, however, remains firmly on the other side

of the ball. All eleven starters from a unit that gave up a

league-low 14.5 points a game in 2010 returns.

That kind of cohesiveness is hard to find. The Steelers believe

the familiarity will help overcome what the aging group lacks in

athleticism. Nine current starters will be at least 30 years old by

December.

And though rookie defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, third-year

defensive end Ziggy Hood and rookie cornerback Curtis Brown are

considered the building blocks of the next generation of the Steel

Curtain, the current group isn’t quite ready to cede the spotlight

yet.

Troy Polamalu, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year,

appears to be fully recovered from an Achilles injury that slowed

him during the playoffs. Harrison continues to experience back and

leg pain but doesn’t believe it will prevent him from continuing to

wreak havoc in opposing backfields.

Yet with so many players with so many flecks of gray in their

hair, the Steelers know this may be the last stand for awhile.

Maybe.

”To be honest I’ve heard (that this is it) quite a few camps in

a row,” Polamalu said. ”There’s always going to be a sense of

urgency for us.”