Steelers have new faces, same expectations
Brett Keisel glanced around the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive
meeting room one day at training camp and the defensive end was
struck by what – or actually who – he didn’t see.
No James Farrior. No Aaron Smith. No Chris Hoke. All important
role players in Pittsburgh’s run of three Super Bowl appearances in
six years. All part of a mass offseason exodus – by Steelers’
standards anyway – that left the team decidedly younger though
Keisel stressed no less focused on a seventh Lombardi trophy.
”Yeah, you notice when you’re one of the oldest guys in the
room,” said Keisel, who turns 34 in September. ”But you know how
it is around here. The standard is the standard and these young
guys, they know what’s expected and what they have to do to help
this team win.”
And win now. In that sense, it’s business as usual in
Pittsburgh. It’s also one of the few things that have remained
intact following a busy offseason for one of the NFL’s most stable
Hines Ward, and his team-record 1,000 career receptions, was
released. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was let go. Offensive
guard Chris Kemoeatu was also shown the door as part of a youth
movement along the offensive line.
While coach Mike Tomlin allows the locker room will miss the
presence of leaders like Ward and Farrior, he’s hardly concerned
about how it will affect the Steelers on the field.
”From the formation of a team and the playmaking standpoint,
the plays are going to be made,” he said. ”The wheels will
continue to turn … it’s bigger than all of us. Somebody is going
to catch passes. Somebody is going to tackle people.”
Hopefully just a little bit better than they did a year ago.
The Steelers went 12-4 in 2011 but lacked a certain killer
instinct. They led the league in yards allowed but were last in
turnovers created and let Tim Tebow kick them out of the playoffs
with a wild overtime playoff win. Pittsburgh’s offense moved the
ball with ease but struggled scoring points, one of the main
reasons the popular and laid-back Arians was replaced with the
fiery Todd Haley, who is hoping to give the running game some
”We want to be a team that most importantly, can run it when we
want to run it and throw it when we have to throw it,” Haley
To get there, the team drafted All-American guard David DeCastro
in the first round and massive left tackle Mike Adams in the second
in hopes they can bolster a line that gave up 42 sacks last season
and made quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spend most of the year
shaking off nagging injuries due to a constant pounding.
That plan hit a significant bump in the preseason as Adams
struggled to adjust to the NFL’s speed and DeCastro is out
indefinitely with a right knee injury.
Now the revamped line is merely reshuffled. Veteran Willie Colon
moved from right tackle to left guard, while Ramon Foster will fill
in at right guard until DeCastro returns. Max Starks recovered from
offseason knee surgery in time to re-sign and protect good friend
Roethlisberger’s blind side while Adams gets his bearings.
”We’ve been through this before,” Starks said. ”It’s not like
this is something brand new and you’ve had the same five starters
for three years and nobody’s had any reps. Our group is used to
turnover and position flexibility.”
Besides, the line is hardly the only position dealing with
uncertainty. Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall is still
rehabbing the torn ACL in his right knee suffered in last season’s
finale against Cleveland. Linebacker James Harrison spent the
offseason dealing with a balky knee. So did nose tackle Casey
Harrison and Hampton vowed to be ready for the season opener in
Denver on Sept. 9. Perhaps they will be, but their injury issues
only highlighted just how close they are to the end of their
This may be their last chance at making a Super Bowl run. The
same goes for perennial All Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who took on a
more visible presence during the offseason, showing up at organized
team activities – which he usually skips – to fill the void left by
the departure of players like Farrior.
”This team changed more than ever because of its loss of
leadership,” Polamalu said. ”This is a different personality team
than it was in the past.”
Perhaps nowhere is that change more evident than at wide
receiver, where Antonio Brown seems poised to replace Ward as the
unit’s spokesman. It’s not a coincidence that Brown – who signed a
six-year extension at the start of training camp – moved into
Ward’s abandoned locker.
Even Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace, who ended his lengthy
holdout less than two weeks before the start of the regular season,
allowed Brown has emerged as the leader of the self-proclaimed
”Young Money Family.”
Wallace’s holdout failed to produce the long-term contract he
desires, but his return means Roethlisberger now has a full
complement of weapons.
The 30-year-old quarterback has developed a newfound maturity in
the last two years. He was married last summer, earned his college
degree from Miami (Ohio) during the offseason and announced he and
his wife will welcome their first child this winter.
Though Roethlisberger initially balked at the way Arians was
ushered out the door, he’s embraced the diverse attack Haley hopes
will make the Steelers one of the most explosive offenses in the
league. No wonder the quarterback was so pumped when the speedy
Wallace finally showed up.
”It’s kind of like your parents telling you you get a new car
then it has to sit in the driveway because you don’t have any
insurance,” Roethlisberger said. ”Once you get that insurance,
you get out and take it for a ride.”
One the Steelers hope doesn’t end until New Orleans.
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and