Haley: Steelers picking up on new offense
Throughout the offseason, on and off the field, new Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has appeared relaxed, at ease and smiling. The same was the case on Wednesday, when he spoke with the media during training activities.
Far from the fiery, not-afraid-to-get-in-a-player's-face persona he has cultivated over 15 years as an assistant or head coach in the NFL, this is a new Haley with a new mission on a new team. But don't worry, he said. The Steelers will see that side of him soon enough.
''I don't flip that switch until a little later,'' Haley said, drawing laughs. ''In training camp, we'll pick it up a notch.''
Demeanor aside, Haley was more direct in addressing concerns about the Steelers learning his offense before the start of the season.
''You use all this time,'' Haley said. ''It will be training camp and then it will be the real preseason games before anybody is totally comfortable.''
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has repeatedly expressed consternation about the transition to a new system after playing in virtually the same offense under coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians the first eight years of his career.
Roethlisberger was absent from the optional practice Wednesday, after which Haley spoke publicly for the first time since the draft in April. Haley was asked if he was worried that his two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has so often expressed concern in assimilating into the new offense.
''I haven't sensed any of that concern, at least me personally,'' Haley said. ''He's in here, he's working hard. He's into it - even the days when he hasn't practiced, he's over my shoulder, talking, commenting, discussing. That's what I've seen out of all the good quarterbacks - really good quarterbacks - that I've been around act like.''
While Haley asserted that ''this goes on each and every year'' around the league, the Steelers are usually a model of consistency. The franchise that has had only three head coaches since 1969 had been running the same offense and defense since Roethlisberger entered the league in 2004.
Arians was the wide receivers coach under Whisenhunt until the latter was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as a head coach. Haley was Whisenhunt's offensive coordinator for two seasons - including the Cardinals' 2009 NFC title season - before moving on to Kansas City.
''Change is not always comfortable, and we said that right out of the gate,'' said Haley, who was fired by the Chiefs in December. ''Sometimes when there are changes, that's a way to keep guys on their toes and keep their focus on the understanding of what the goal is - and that is to win Super Bowls.''
While sheepishly conceding he was using ''coachspeak,'' Haley described his offense by saying he wants ''a physical group, a smart group, a disciplined group.''
Haley has shown an ability to adapt to his personnel. The vertical-passing offense during his time with the Cardinals differed greatly from the run-oriented attack used by the Chiefs during their 2010 AFC West title season. Haley said he's learning about his new players as much as they are learning about him. More than any dramatic changes in structure, semantics are the hurdles that need to be cleared.
''Football is football,'' Haley said. ''Terminology is the issue, really. Philosophically, you spell out to your guys how you want to play football and then it is about them understanding the language.
''We, coaches, are creatures of habit. You can go around the league and hear a lot of the same words. But the problem is when they don't mean the same thing. You try to avoid those situations, where guys are having to translate language-to-language and concept-to-concept.''
Haley said the Steelers' offense is where he wants it to be at this stage, with OTAs concluding after a session Thursday. Mandatory minicamp is next week.
''Next week will be a real big week for us because what we are going to do is backtrack and redo exactly what we did again,'' Haley said. ''It will be the third time they are hearing. In Phase I, in the little bit of field work we were able to do, we installed it once then. So this is second time through. And next week will be our third, and training camp will be fourth.''
With Roethlisberger turning 30 this offseason, the Steelers are taking steps to keep their $102 million quarterback healthy for the long-term. Pittsburgh drafted offensive linemen in the first two rounds, and team president Art Rooney II suggested Roethlisberger would need to ''tweak'' his game.
Roethlisberger has thrived due to his propensity to scramble, fend off sacks with his strength and keep plays alive, and the franchise quarterback has been reluctant to alter a style that has made him a star.
While Haley said preventing the quarterback from taking hits is ''always an emphasis,'' he didn't sound as if he was making any directives aimed at forcing Roethlisberger to stay more in the pocket or get rid of the ball earlier.
''It's one of the best things he does, and it's what separates him from all the other guys in the league for the most part,'' Haley said. ''So you don't want to take that great ability away from him.''
Haley has yet to work with speedy starting receiver Mike Wallace, a restricted free agent who has not signed his tender nor attended team offseason workouts.
''He'll be behind a little bit, but he has to pick it up,'' Haley said. ''We'll make sure that occurs.''