AFC North: Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played every snap in 2013 and turned in one of his best statistical seasons, is the team's highest-ranked representative on ESPN.com's list of the NFL's top 100 players on offense and defense.

Roethlisberger
The question is whether six quarterbacks are better than Roethlisberger, one of only three active passers to win multiple Super Bowls.

Roethlisberger is No. 28 on offense, two spots behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who won the 2013 Super Bowl.

Despite throwing for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns -- and holding the Steelers together after a ghastly 0-4 start -- Roethlisberger somehow slipped four spots from his 2013 ranking.

The 11th-year veteran has already broken many of Terry Bradshaw's Steelers passing records and is one of only four quarterbacks in the modern era to win 80 games in 113 or fewer starts.

His ranking confirms what I have long thought about Roethlisberger: He doesn't get the recognition he deserves for what he means to the Steelers.

Maybe consecutive 8-8 seasons slightly dimmed opinions on Roethlisberger from a national perspective. Imagine, however, the losing the Steelers would have endured as they rebuilt their defense on the run without Roethlisberger, who is a franchise quarterback in every sense of the word.

That he is still playing at an incredibly high level at the age of 32 is the Steelers' biggest reason for optimism as they try to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin praised Darrius Heyward-Bey on Tuesday and said he particularly likes what the veteran wide receiver has done on special teams.

That clinches it for me: the Steelers will keep six wide receivers when they finalize their 53-man roster at the end of the week.

Heyward-Bey
Look for Heyward-Bey to join Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant and Justin Brown in making the team.

Heyward-Bey, who signed a veteran minimum contract with the Steelers in March, had a quiet training camp in part because he missed significant practice time after sustaining a concussion.

Heyward-Bey flashed in the Steelers' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, catching three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

"He's done some really good things of late, after he came back from his concussion," Tomlin said. "I'm just as pleased with he's providing us from a special teams standpoint as I am what he's doing at wide receiver. I really like some of the things he's shown us in the kicking game, some things that, quite frankly, I didn't know he had in terms of his willingness and ability to cover punts, his willingness and ability to block for punt returners. It's attractive."

Here are some other takes from Tomlin's news conference:
  • Tomlin said running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will play Thursday night against the visiting Carolina Panthers. The eighth-year coach has not ruled out playing any of his starters even though quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on Monday he does not expect to play in the Steelers' final preseason game. "If they need to work they're going to get it, whether it's individual or collective," Tomlin said of the game against the Panthers. "That's just my approach to preparation."
  • Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers last Wednesday, will play against the Panthers. And Tomlin strongly hinted that Keisel will play an extended numbers of snaps on Thursday. "I'm interested in taking him to the deep end of the pool to see if he can swim a little bit," Tomlin said. "We'll see how he does."
  • Tomlin said third-string quarterback Landry Jones will play extensively against the Panthers and may start the game. Jones might be battling for a roster spot after playing poorly in an Aug. 16 game against the Buffalo Bills and not getting any snaps last Thursday night in Philadelphia. When asked what he needs to see from Jones, Tomlin said, "Just consistent, above the line play in all areas. That's about as straight of an arrow as I can fire."
  • The Steelers do not plan on bringing in another punter against the Panthers. Brad Wing has been the team's only punter since the start of training camp with Adam Podlesh out because of a family issue. Wing's net punting average in three games is only 35.8 yards, but Tomlin gave him a vote of confidence. "I like what Brad has done," he said.
Team president Art Rooney II echoed similar sentiments to what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I think there are people that like to jump to conclusions about what your team's going to be after one game or two games or three games in the preseason. It's one game and our goal is to continue to work at it and get better," Rooney told ESPN.com. "I feel good about the people we have that are going to do that."

The Steelers raised the level of their fans' collective anxiety with how they lost the preseason game in which starters saw their most extensive action.

The defense couldn't stop the run or Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. It got so bad that at one point in the third quarter Troy Polamalu's voice was among the loudest of the players yelling at one another on the sidelines.

The offense did not fare much better.

The starters managed just one touchdown despite playing into the third quarter, and the Steelers did not score until the Eagles had built a 24-0 lead.

Rooney said he won't put too much emphasis on one game -- and a preseason one at that.

"It's a not journey where you stop and say, 'Oh, OK, we're a good team' or 'Oh, OK we're a bad team,'" he said. "You've got to keep working and you've got to try to keep getting better so I don't try to jump to that conclusion two weeks into the preseason."

Rooney is pleased the Steelers were able to accomplish one of their main offseason goals of adding more team speed.

"Having said that we do have new faces so there are people that have to learn how to work together," Rooney said. "We'll see how quickly people can get to where they need to be. We're going to have a younger team than we've had in awhile.

"Sometimes that's good, sometimes there's bumps in the road that come along with that. I think it's going to be an interesting season to see how all of that unfolds. Whatever we are on Sept. 7, hopefully we'll be better on Dec. 1."
PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger does not anticipate playing in the final preseason game Thursday night, and he has this message for fans who are still apoplectic from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss in their third preseason game: Take a deep breath.

“The preseason is just that, it’s getting a chance to look at things, different reads, move guys around to see where guys can be best fit,” the Steelers quarterback said early Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to call it preseason practice, but it kind of is. We stayed healthy and that’s the most important thing.”

It is also not something to be taken lightly considering the St. Louis Rams won’t have starting quarterback Sam Bradford as they try to make a move in the NFL’s toughest division this season.

Bradford tore his ACL for the second consecutive year and already has been lost for the season.

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His injury is one of a number of ones that has occurred to high-profile players, and it reinforces what Roethlisberger said about the preseason: The most important thing is making it through the four-game schedule relatively unscathed from a health standpoint.

That priority is why a lot of the Steelers starters figure to join Roethlisberger in watching Thursday when the Steelers and Carolina Panthers play in a 7:30 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

As bad as the Steelers played in a 31-21 loss on Thursday night in Philadelphia, the risk/reward factor when it comes to the final preseason game tilts heavily toward not exposing starters to injury.

It will be interesting to see how much work some of the wide receivers get against the Panthers.

Lance Moore, who missed the Eagles game with leg tightness, has one catch for 6 yards in the preseason. Justin Brown, meanwhile, has just three catches for 15 yards after starring in offseason practices and the first part of training camp.

With rookie Martavis Bryant coming along but not showing yet that the Steelers can count on him heavily at the start of the season there are questions at wide receiver after Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

Or are there?

“I’m very confident,” Roethlisberger said of his wide receivers. “I like where they are I think they’re competing with each other every day and even last game seeing [Darrius Heyward-Bey make that great play, running by people, getting his feet down in the back of the end zone. I missed Justin on a play but he’s doing some really good things both in the run game and the pass game. I’m not concerned with our receivers right now.”

PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession.

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier.

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller.

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger anticipates playing the first half Thursday night in the Pittsburgh Steelers' third preseason game, and he would like to get at least one series of running the no-huddle offense at Philadelphia.

"I'd like to get a little more road work," Roethlisberger said, "see if we'll do no-huddle on the road, which is usually a little different."

Roethlisberger
The Steelers play the Eagles Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the starters will see their most extensive action of the preseason at Lincoln Financial Field.

Roethlisberger played three series last Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills and the Steelers ran their no-huddle offense almost exclusively when he was in the game. Roethlisberger completed 8 of 11 passes for 128 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and film review of the Steelers' 19-16 win confirmed that the no-huddle offense was as good as it looked against the Bills.

"There was only one (mental) mistake and it was a very minor one," Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger threw a 16-yard touchdown pass that highlighted the growth second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton has made since last season.

Wheaton
Wheaton turned around Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore with a double move and then dragged his feet after hauling in Roethlisberger's pass near the out of bounds line. Roethlisberger, whose locker is next to Wheaton's at the Steelers' practice facility, expects big things from the player who has all but won the job of No. 2 wide receiver.

"He's learning and growing fast and we need him to," Roethlisberger said of Wheaton. "He doesn't make the same mistake twice and he's busting his butt every day in practice. I grabbed him upstairs today and talked to him about something he did a little wrong in the game. He had nothing to do with the play but he was like heartbroken that he kind of screwed something up that he probably shouldn't have."

A couple of notes:
  • Greg Warren is on the mend after having surgery late last week to fix a torn meniscus in his right knee. The veteran long snapper said he expects to miss about a month, which means he is unlikely to play in the Steelers' season opener on Sept. 7 against the visiting Browns. Warren hurt his knee last Wednesday during the Steelers' joint practice with the Bills at St. Vincent College. "I was just blocking and braced on it and it kind of popped and I knew something was abnormal when it happened," said Warren, who is in his 10th season. "I think it could have been a lot worse and I think after the surgery they were very happy with the way things went."
  • There are no significant changes on the depth chart that the Steelers released Monday. Brian Arnfelt is still ahead of Josh Mauro at right defensive end and Hebron Fangupo is ahead of Daniel McCullers at nose tackle. Martavis Bryant is fourth on the depth chart at one of the wide receiver spots, behind Antonio Brown, Justin Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
PITTSBURGH -- The first-team offense ran the no-huddle attack almost exclusively in a 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills, and coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t have asked for much better results.

Roethlisberger
 The Steelers scored a pair of touchdowns in their first three possessions and averaged 9.6 per play with Ben Roethlisberger playing quarterback.

They also converted three out of four third down. The only time they punted with the starters in the game came was when tight end Heath Miller's 9-yard reception fell short by less than a yard short for a first down.

“It was a good start to the no-huddle,” said Roethlisberger, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 128 yards and a pair of touchdowns while playing a little more than a quarter. “The communication was what I wanted to work on, and we didn’t have mental errors of what I saw so far.”

Indeed, the Steelers did not commit any penalties with their offensive starters on the field, and the line kept Roethlisberger off the ground. It also allowed the veteran quartebrack time to wait on a perfectly executed double move by wide receiver Markus Wheaton and throw a 16-yard touchdown pass that gave the Steelers an early 13-3 lead.

“We wanted to get Ben some quality work, particularly in no-huddle in the comforts of Heinz Field,” Tomlin said.

Here are some leftovers from the second preseason game:
  • It could be a good omen. Or it could mean nothing with two games left on the preseason schedule. But the Steelers have stayed relatively clean from an injury standpoint. The most significant injury is a meniscus tear to long snapper Greg Warren. The only injury of note in their win over the Bills was a shoulder dislocation suffered by guard Bryant Browning. “Don’t anticipate anybody else having any type of injury that would prevent them from playing in Philadelphia,” Tomlin said. That doesn’t include cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Devin Smith, each of whom sustained undisclosed injuries last Friday and did not play against the Bills.
  • The Bills rushed for 150 yards, and their success on the ground allowed them to put together extended drives against the Steelers’ first-team defense and control the clock. “Too many missed tackles, particularly in the early stages,” Tomlin said. “We had them in the backfield and the line of scrimmage, and they were squirting through and able to stay on schedule. They weren’t necessarily big runs, but if you can get them in second and 12s, it changes the whole complexion of the series. Those missed tackles didn’t allow us to do that.”
  • Three of Shaun Suisham’s four kickoffs were returned, and that was by Tomlin’s design. “The only way you get to know some of these kick coverage guys is to put balls in play,” the eighth-year coach said. “Shaun could put the through the back of the end zone like some of these people we’re playing, but we want to see what our kickoff coverage teams are capable of because we’re going to get into the season, and I’d rather know now than then.”
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LATROBE, Pa. -- Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was always one of the better interviews during the four seasons he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He almost always gave thoughtful and honest answers, and I don't want to bash him for his unvarnished take on Peyton Manning's leadership compared to that of Ben Roethlisberger.

Too often we, as in the media, complain that the players and teams we cover give responses to our questions that are as canned as they are clichéd. And then we club them over the head with their words if they ignite a controversy.

What I can't reconcile with Sanders' assertion that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger is a scene inside a silent visiting locker room at M&T Bank Stadium late last November.

The Steelers had just suffered a crushing 22-20 loss to the Ravens after rallying back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit. They should have tied the game late when Roethlisberger put a two-point conversion pass right on Sanders' hands.

Sanders dropped the ball, bringing to a screeching halt the three-game winning steak and momentum that the Steelers had taken into the game on Thanksgiving night.

Inside the Steelers' locker room, just after the scab had been ripped off a team that had started the season 0-4, Roethlisberger put his arm around his crestfallen teammate and talked into the earhole of Sanders' helmet.

A little later Roethlisberger offered similar encouraging words when he spoke to reporters about Sanders -- as well as an endorsement of a wide receiver whose next 100-yard game will be his first in the NFL.

If what Roethlisberger did in that locker room when emotions were still so raw isn't leadership, I don't know what is. And I keep flashing back to that scene with Sanders standing by what he said on a Denver radio station a couple of weeks ago.

I applaud Sanders for owning his comments and not playing the taken-out-of-context card.

But he is off base, and not just because Roethlisberger was one of his biggest supporters when the two were teammates.

Sure, Roethlisberger doesn’t throw to his wide receivers after practice as much as Manning does, but one of Manning's hallmarks is his obsessive attention to detail. How many quarterbacks wouldn't suffer in comparison to Manning when looking solely at the extra work they put in with their wide receivers?

Also, Sanders apparently hasn't kept up with what has been going on with the Steelers since he signed with the Broncos.

Roethlisberger has never been more engaged with his wide receivers, and he has been their coach as much as their quarterback at training camp.

This is clearly his offense.

And his team.

Sanders doesn't owe Roethlisberger an apology even though former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was spot-on when he said there are different kinds of leadership.

Sanders truly believes what he said, and he has a right to his opinion.

He does owe his former quarterback a phone call, if only so Roethlisberger can ask a simple question: Why take a shot at a former teammate who picked up Sanders during one of his lowest moments as a professional?
LATROBE, Pa. – Ben Roethlisberger reiterated near the end of training camp what he said at the beginning of it: His contract is not an issue and the veteran quarterback is focused on helping the Pittsburgh Steelers return to the playoffs following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

“It’s been out of my mind because it’s about football now,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday morning on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike" show. “It’s about playing ball, so it’s not as not as difficult as people probably think. I just want to go out and give it everything I have and lay it all on the line for my fans and my team and that’s just the way it is.”

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger has two years left on the eight-year, $102 million deal he signed in 2008, and that is when the Steelers have traditionally signed their starting quarterback to a new deal.

The Steelers plan to sign Roethlisberger to a long-term deal after this season, when they will have enough room under the salary cap to pay their franchise quarterback and keep a competitive team around him.

Roethlisberger is wrapping up his 11th training camp, and when the Steelers played their preseason opener last Saturday night, he and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning talked -- and marveled at how fast the time has gone.

Manning was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft and Roethlisberger went No. 11 to the Steelers.

Roethlisberger, who turned 33 in March, has been as much as a coach as he has been a quarterback to the Steelers’ young wide receivers. That is part of the evolution that has taken place since Roethlisberger burst onto the scene in 2004, winning 14 consecutive starts as a rookie and the Super Bowl the following season.

“For me it’s about being cerebral,” Roethlisberger said on how he has changed. “Early on it’s about first read. If it’s not there, find your second read and then just start making something happen and run around, whatever it is. Now I think it’s understanding more of offenses and defenses, what play goes against what defense and being able to look into your third and fourth reads.”

Roethlisberger hopes to be making reads well into January after sitting out the playoffs the last two seasons.

“We all know what happened last year. For me it’s about moving on and putting it in the past and saying this is a new year,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s kind of the mentality of a quarterback anyway. When you have a bad game, a bad play, a bad interception, you have to move on and put it behind you. That’s the mentality I’m taking. This is new season; we’re a new team.”

Click here to listen to Roethlisberger's entire interview. Listen
LATROBE, Pa. -- Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor offered his unique take on the brawl that broke out -- and almost got really ugly -- Tuesday during a joint practice between the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.

“They should have paid per view that one,” Taylor said Wednesday as rain once again pelted Western Pennsylvania.

The Steelers hope nothing that would be worthy of charging people to watch on TV happens this afternoon.

The Steelers close out training camp with a pair of joint practices with the Buffalo Bills, weather permitting, this afternoon and Thursday, and they break camp on Friday.

The Raiders-Cowboys melee, which erupted right in front of a cluster of fans, served as a reminder that as happy as players are to practice against a different opponent tempers aren’t always kept in check.

“Going against someone else you always want to prove a point,” said Taylor, who will take part in his first joint practice at training camp. “The testosterone level is sky-high on the field.”

That is the case no matter who players are lining up against, making training camp fights are inevitable.

The Steelers nearly brawled among themselves on Aug. 1 after Le’Veon Bell and Vince Williams wrestled each other to the ground at the end of a back-on-’backers drill. And Tuesday Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown slapped rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson in the helmet and the two had to be separated.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave his take on training camp fights Wednesday morning on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” show.

“I think it’s one of those things where you like to see the aggressiveness,” Roethlisberger said, “but I don’t like it for the fact that I don’t want someone to get hurt, hurt a hand or something like that. That’s where I stand on it.

“I usually just keep my distance because I’m a little guy compared to those guys that are usually fighting. The crazy thing about a quarterback, he’s a lot like a goalie. When he starts a fight people always jump in. Your linemen always get in there before anything, so it’s kind of a nice thing.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- I have long thought that Ben Roethlisberger doesn't quite get his due as an elite quarterback from a national perspective.

One of only three active quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls, there is also documented evidence of how good Roethlisberger is under another kind of pressure.

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Over the past three seasons Roethlisberger has been the best quarterback in the NFL when his pass protection breaks down.

Roethlisberger leads all quarterbacks in completion percentage (51.8), passing yards (1,837) and passing touchdowns (18) when throwing under duress or getting hit since 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Steelers, of course, want to minimize the hits Roethlisberger absorbs, especially at this stage of his career. If the Steelers offensive line comes into its own this season -- and everything is in place for that to happen -- Roethlisberger could receive the kind of protection he enjoyed early in his career when he had the likes of Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings blocking for him.

But it bodes well for the offense that Roethlisberger is still as good as any quarterback when it comes to delivering under pressure.

Check out what Kevin Colbert had to say about Roethlisberger -- and a couple of other subjects -- later today when my video interview with the Steelers general manager is posted. It should be up by 10 a.m. ET.

A couple of other odds and ends:
  • I'm really looking forward to seeing rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson in the Steelers' first preseason game Saturday night against the New York Giants. I have been impressed with Richardson, and to paraphrase Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, the game at this level doesn't seem too big for the fifth-round draft pick. William Gay agreed. “He's so calm,” the veteran cornerback said. “I tell him all the time, just use that in a game and you'll be all right. We'll see how he does in live action. I think he's going to be pretty good.”
  • The Steelers return to practice this afternoon following the players' day off Tuesday. They have gotten through the toughest grind of training camp and will practice two more times this week and four times the following week before breaking camp. Camp drills end with consecutive joint practices against the Buffalo Bills at St. Vincent College.
  • Camp has been noticeably quieter with Ryan Clark no longer playing for the Steelers. The veteran free safety, who had a heck of a run in Pittsburgh, is now with the Redskins. Here is an update on Clark.
LATROBE, Pa. -- A seemingly forgotten linebacker has hit harder than some of the storms that swept through the area during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first week of training camp.

Vince Williams jolted Le'Veon Bell several times during a back-on-'backers drill last Friday night, leading to the first fight of camp. The next day Williams walloped running back Miguel Maysonet and Tauren Poole in separate drills, putting him among the players who have stood out since the pads have gone on and started popping.

"Vince brings a great deal of emotion and intensity to his work. He has that distinguishing characteristic," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He had it at Florida State and it continues. It's a good thing to build his game around."

Williams started 11 games last season following the loss of Larry Foote, and the sixth-round draft pick made significant progress during his rookie campaign. But he opened offseason practices behind rookie first-round pick Ryan Shazier on the depth chart at weakside inside linebacker, and Shazier has only tightened his grip on Williams' former job.

Williams lacks Shazier's speed and athleticism, two attributes that are vital with offenses increasingly spreading out defenses, but man can he deliver a shot. The Steelers will count on Williams doing that in a reserve role at linebacker as well as on special teams.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. The Steelers have an abundance of talent at inside linebacker a year after they had to start a player who had previously worked as an insurance adjuster for two games at the position. Williams gives them solid depth inside and Sean Spence looks like he will contribute two years after suffering a career-threatening knee injury. The Steelers are so deep at inside linebacker that Terence Garvin, who played 15 games as a rookie last season, will have to battle to make the team. One of the final roster spots could come down to Garvin and rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt.

[+] EnlargeVince Williams
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year linebacker Vince Williams has made an impact during Steelers training camp this summer.
2. Ben Roethlisberger has looked sharp and focused despite talk swirling around him about his contract situation and former teammate Emmanuel Sanders' claim that Peyton Manning is a far better leader than Roethlisberger. Sanders, who is now with the Denver Broncos, might reassess his evaluation if he watched Roethlisberger for a couple of days during training camp. The 11th-year quarterback has been coaching the Steelers' wide receiver as much as he has been throwing to them, barking at them if they run a wrong or sloppy route or drop a ball, but also praising them when they make a good play. He has also stayed after practice to throw to his receivers.

3. The offensive line has a chance to be really good if it can stay relatively healthy. The Steelers already appear to be set with their starting five, and that group can use camp and the preseason games to work together on the new technique and schemes the line is learning from new position coach Mike Munchak. The line, which returns four starters from 2013 as well as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey from a knee injury, has taken to the coaching of Munchak. It has also taken personally that the Steelers averaged just 86.4 rushing yards per game last season. One of the offensive line's goals this season is for the Steelers to rank among the NFL's top 10 teams in rushing.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Running back LeGarrette Blount's on-field behavior has been a little unsettling, and you have to wonder if the raw emotion that he couldn't check when he dived onto Vince Williams during the first fight of camp will resurface if he doesn't get the ball enough during the regular season. Bell is entrenched as the starter and he is clearly the better all-around back then Blount. The Steelers also want to get speedy rookie Dri Archer involved in the running game. How many carries that leaves for Blount remains to be seen. If he becomes unhappy with his role in the offense that could become an issue.

2. Groin injuries haven't become an epidemic but they have been an issue at camp and cost several players valuable practice time. New starting free safety Mike Mitchell, who arrived at camp with a groin injury, has yet to practice and he needs to develop a good on-field rapport with strong safety Troy Polamalu. The two did not practice together much during the offseason since Polamalu skipped the voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and it has to be at least a small concern to the Steelers that they have yet to work together in camp. Jordan Zumwalt also missed significant practice time with a groin injury stunting his development. Zumwalt has a real chance to make the 53-man roster, but after missing OTAs because UCLA's school year hadn't ended, the sixth-round pick needs to get as many repetitions as he can during camp.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Antonio Brown
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAntonio Brown, who caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season, has been a popular target for Ben Roethlisberger during training camp.
3. Roethlisberger seems to be targeting Antonio Brown a lot during 11-on-11 drills, which is understandable considering the latter caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season. But Brown is going to need some help this season to keep defenses from throwing all kind of coverages his way. The reality is that the young wideouts who have looked so promising in camp have yet to prove themselves at this level. The Steelers will probably feel a lot more at ease about their wide receivers if Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown, among others, flash in preseason games instead of just practice.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rookie outside linebacker Howard Jones has helped himself through the early part of camp. Jones, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has stood out during back-on-'backers drills, and last Friday night he twice beat tight end Heath Miller. "He has a chance to be a player," a veteran Steelers player said of Jones.
  • One of the young running backs is going to emerge and make the 53-man roster and my guess is it is either Tauren Poole or Miguel Maysonet. Both have had their moments running the ball, though special teams may be the biggest consideration as far as who the Steelers keep as a fourth running back.
  • Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is making the team. The question is will the Steelers essentially redshirt him during his rookie season by deactivating him for games. The answer at this time last week would have probably been yes. But Bryant has come on after a slow start to camp and the Steelers could badly use a 6-4 wide receiver inside the 20-yard line. Bryant dominated a red zone drill late last week.
  • The Steelers are through the grind of camp. They are off today following six consecutive days of practice, and they will only practice two more times this week before holding a walk through for their first preseason game. After playing the New York Giants on Saturday night, the Steelers will practice four more times at St. Vincent College before breaking camp.

LATROBE, Pa. -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s new contract won’t change the Steelers’ approach to Ben Roethlisberger and that includes their intention to reward their franchise quarterback when the time is right.

Roethlisberger
The Steelers have concluded that is after the season when room under the salary cap isn’t expected to be an issue -- and they can pay Roethlisberger, whose base salary is $12.1 million thie year, top dollar without putting too much strain on the cap.

Roethlisberger turns 33 in March but he is still playing at a high level, and general manager Kevin Colbert said he has never seen the Steelers’ franchise quarterback look better.

“I think he’s had as good a spring as I’ve ever seen him have,” Colbert told ESPN.com on Monday. “I think he’s continued to move that into training camp and right now he’s getting acclimated to the young guys we have at wide receiver and at running back.”

Roethlisberger has been nothing if not engaged when working with the wide receivers, and he has coached them during training camp as much as he has thrown to them.

The Steelers are brimming with talent at wide receiver and there may not be a more intriguing player at the position than rookie Martavis Bryant.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has a unique blend of size and speed, and Bryant has flashed that in recent practices.

He dominated a red zone drill on Saturday. The next day Bryant stretched out to make a sideline catch of a Bruce Gradkowski pass that initially looked like it had been way overthrown.

“He’s faster than what most people think he is,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “He just has a few routes he needs to work on and I’m sure the coaches are going to use his ability.”

Taylor went as far as to say that Bryant has a chance to make an impact similar to what former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace did as a rookie in 2009. Wallace emerged as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver that season and caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns.

“Nobody has Mike Wallace’s speed but as far as having that kind of ability, yes, I do think [Bryant] has that kind of ability,” Taylor said. “When you’ve got a guy who’s 6-4, who can pretty much run with anybody and can jump and catch, that’s a good sign.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The six-year, $115 million contract that quarterback Andy Dalton landed from the Bengals won’t alter the Pittsburgh Steelers' plans regarding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told ESPN.com.

Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract, which is when the Steelers have traditionally signed their starting quarterback to a new deal. But the franchise will wait until after the season to sign Roethlisberger, whose base salary is $12.1 million this year, to another long-term contract.

That hasn’t changed because of the contact that Dalton signed with the Bengals, Colbert said.

“Those deals don’t affect us at all,” Colbert said Monday morning. "Art [Rooney II] made the statement and we followed up that Ben’s situation will be dealt with fairly after the season because we want to take care of other business that we have to tend to this year.”

The Steelers are less than $6 million under the salary cap, and Colbert has said the organization is interested in signing cornerback Cortez Allen, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and right tackle Marcus Gilbert to long-term contracts.

All are going into the final year of their respective deals.

The Steelers signed kicker Shaun Suisham to a four-year contract extension last Friday. Gilbert said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has had talks with the Steelers regarding a new contract for the fourth-year veteran.

The Steelers have until Sept. 7 to sign their own players to new deals since the team doesn't negotiate contracts during the regular season.

“Obviously you think about getting [a new contract] done; the only thing I can control is playing football,” Gilbert said. “If I do what I’m supposed to do during games it’s going to work out for itself. I keep in touch with my agent but he handles that part and my job is to play football.”

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