AFC North: Dick LeBeau

Steelers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • What a difference the popping of pads makes. The Steelers held their first padded practice of training camp between the rain drops produced Monday by a sobbing sky and everyone, it seemed, turned the intensity up. Way up. You expected to hear new defensive assistant Joey Porter early and often during practice. It was a surprise to see even-keeled defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also yelling as he did several times during an 11-on-11 drill. Running backs and linebackers collided ferociously during the popular backs on 'backers drill and there was tackling as coach Mike Tomlin had promised. The practice looked totally different from the non-contact drills that the players had taken part in May and June and for the first two days of camp.
  • Rookie Ryan Shazier stood out during the backs on backers drill, showcasing the speed that helped convince the Steelers to take the inside linebacker with the 15th overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft. Everyone was anxious to see Shazier in full pads, and he made a strong first impression, especially when he twice blew past LeGarrette Blount. "He did some nice things," Tomlin said of Shazier. "He was elusive. He was playing to his assets with his speed and agility."
  • Outside linebacker Jason Worilds turned in the play of the day when he intercepted a pass thrown to rookie running back Dri Archer on a wheel route. When asked what was more impressive, Worilds making a play on the ball down the field or his running with the ultra-fast Archer, Tomlin said the interception and laughed. "That's the first time Jason Worilds has caught a ball in any fashion out here in practice. I know he can run. I'm going to paint that ball and give it to him."
  • Rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson made a diving interception of a Bruce Gradkowski and the defense seemed to be ahead of the offense on the first day of pads and contact. Not that Tomlin saw it that way. "Battles were fought and won on both sides of the ball," he said.
  • Starting running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring) didn't practice, and Blount, his backup, didn't have his best day. Blount struggled in backs on 'backers and also dropped a pass. Bell is "day-to-day," Tomlin said, after experiencing hamstring tightness on Sunday.
  • In other injury news, rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt left practice with groin tightness and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin was held out of drills after landing on his shoulder during practice on Sunday. Ramon Foster will not in camp due to the death of his mother, so Chris Hubbard played left guard with the first-team offense for the second consecutive practice. The players are off on Tuesday and resume practice on Wednesday.
PITTSBURGH -- As excited as the Steelers’ offensive linemen are by the addition of Mike Munchak, their enthusiasm may be trumped by someone else at team headquarters.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
AP Photo/Wade PayneNew Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak has used his head coach and Hall of Fame player experience to make a great early impression.
“Really nobody was happier when Coach [Mike] Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Mr. [Dan] Rooney were able to pull off getting him to come on board," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of the Steelers' new offensive line coach. "He’s a great teacher. He’s great at what he does, the best in the league in my opinion. He seamlessly transitioned into our staff. He's a stud.”

Haley and Munchak join Dick LeBeau as three former NFL head coaches on Tomlin’s staff, giving it some heft. And Haley has good reason to be thrilled that Munchak will mentor and mold the Steelers’ offensive line this season.

The line came together at the end of last season and is still young with left guard Ramon Foster, who is only 28, the oldest projected starter up front. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey returns after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, and the line will be counted on to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright and open holes for running backs Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer.

Stellar offensive line play has often eluded the Steelers during Tomlin’s tenure, and some of that can be blamed on injuries. But with Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard, pulling everything together, the Steelers’ line could be poised to lead the way for an offense that averaged just under 28 points in its final eight games of 2013.

“Not all great players are great coaches, but he’s definitely one of those great players that transitioned into being a great coach,” Haley said. “The head-coaching experience is a benefit because he doesn’t just see it from his position group or his perspective. He sees the big picture, which I take pride in doing, having been there. He is a very good teacher that believes in hard work, like we all do.

"Great players want to be coached. They want to be pushed to see how good they can be, and these guys are eating it up.”

Mike Mitchell burns to be great

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
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PITTSBURGH -- The speed and playmaking ability that Mike Mitchell flashed during his breakout season in 2013 certainly attracted the Steelers to the hard-hitting safety.

What the Steelers also have to love about their most significant free-agent acquisition is his makeup.

One thing that stood out during Mitchell’s introductory news conference in March, shortly after he signed a five-year $25 million contract with the Steelers, is his desire to be great. And the competitiveness he showed during the practices that were in helmets and shorts only reinforced how much Mitchell wants to establish himself as one of the top safeties in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoNew Steelers safety Mike Mitchell has used perceived slights as inspiration as he enters his sixth NFL season.
Mitchell took a significant step toward that goal last season when he intercepted four passes, notched 3 sacks and forced two fumbles for the Carolina Panthers. When I asked him recently if he felt he should have made the Pro Bowl in 2013, Mitchell said, “Absolutely.”

He also added this: “I don’t really care about Pro Bowl. I want to be All-Pro. I have to do what I did last year again plus get better. A lot of times last year people were talking about the front seven I played with and they were very talented. Sometimes you’re overlooked, but that’s just another chip to put on my shoulder and play football.”

Mitchell has already collected his share of chips -- from playing his college ball at a Mid-American Conference school, the widespread derision heaped on the Oakland Raiders when they took the little-known Ohio University product in the second round of the 2009 draft, to being overshadowed on the Panthers’ defense last season.

Whether Mitchell’s success stemmed from a front seven that included sack master Greg Hardy and tackling machine Luke Kuechly is irrelevant. That there is a perception that Mitchell’s spike in performance can be attributed to the players who were around him following four nondescript seasons in Oakland is another perceived slight that drives the 6-foot, 210-pounder.

Mitchell will get plenty of opportunities to show his worth on a Steelers’ defense that badly needed to add playmakers. And his speed and versatility gives defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau another chess piece he can move around to outwit opposing offenses.

“Mike Mitchell is very fast and a good, solid tackler. An excellent blitzer, actually,” LeBeau said. “I looked at quite a bit of his tape during the free agency period and you had to look pretty far to find any weaknesses.”

That includes above the shoulders.

Mitchell is a heady player who seems to have a pretty seamless transition while learning a new defense and adjusting to new teammates and a new city.

Mitchell is working out in Miami prior to the start of training camp and no doubt spending extra time in his playbook. His pursuit of greatness starts in earnest once the Steelers report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on July 25.

And the Steelers would love nothing more than if Mitchell takes the next step while wearing black and gold.

“I’m at the point of my career where it’s time to prove it,” said Mitchell, who turned 27 earlier this month. “If we could play Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, [Joe] Flacco in that order I’d want to run through it. I want to be the best.”
PITTSBURGH -- As polarizing a figure as Johnny Manziel is, he can probably get Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers fans to agree on one thing.

The majority of fans on both sides would love to see him start Sept. 7 when the Browns visit Heinz Field for the regular-season opener between the bitter rivals.

Manziel
Steelers season-ticket holders would pay double to see the quarterback who reached celebrity status before throwing his first NFL pass receive a baptism/comeuppance from Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Browns fans might be just as eager to see Manziel in Pittsburgh, though obviously for a different reason.

The Browns have gone through quarterbacks at an alarming rate since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999. They desperately need someone to stop the cycle, and Browns fans might want to see if Manziel can conjure up the magic that made him a legend at Texas A&M right from the start -- even if the circumstances for his NFL debut in Pittsburgh could be a recipe for disaster.

Manziel, speaking to Browns reporters at the NFL Rookie Symposium, said his goal is to start this season. But the former Heisman Trophy winner conceded that he is still well behind Brian Hoyer, who will enter training camp as the No. 1 quarterback.

I asked a handful of Steelers defensive starters before the end of offseason practices whether they would like to see Manziel under center for the season opener, and I didn’t get much more than a collective shrug of the shoulders.

“It don’t matter,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback.”

Mike Mitchell agreed.

“To be honest I just want someone that’s going to throw me a pick,” the Steelers free safety said. “I don’t really care who it is. I want the quarterback that’s the most confident, the most prepared, so when I take it from him, no excuses. That’s what I want every week.”

Defensive end Cameron Heyward played his college ball at Ohio State, so he can understand, even if only to some degree, the scrutiny Manziel is already under in the Buckeye state.

“It’s tough. Everybody’s looking for him to mess up,” Heyward said. “He’s a great player. I wish him the best.”

So, would Heyward like to get the first crack at Johnny Football, so to speak?

“Whoever’s in there I’m going to have fun either way,” Heyward said with a smile.
PITTSBURGH -- There are grandiose visions.

Then there is how Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake sees his career playing out.

“When I get to the point where I’m that No. 1 guy and I’m an All-Pro cornerback I’m going to think back to the days when I was sad because I didn’t get drafted,” Blake said.

Blake
A lot of teams will be sad if Blake realizes his goal of becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. There is, of course, the small matter of Blake having to bridge a considerable gap before he is mentioned in the same breaths reserved for the likes of Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis among others.

Blake played just four defensive snaps in 2013, and a big reason why the Steelers were perceived to have a glaring need at cornerback prior to the draft is because of players such as Blake, who lack pedigree and experience at the position.

Blake signed with the Steelers last September after the Jacksonville Jaguars did not include the 5-9, 198-pounder on their 53-man roster.

Blake established himself as a core special-teams player while learning the defense, and the Steelers are hoping he can make a big jump this season. They don’t have a long-term starter at cornerback after Cortez Allen, so the opportunity is there for Blake, who only turns 24 in August.

“I feel like they have confidence in me enough, my work ethic and abilities,” Blake said. “In time I can shock the world and show them I’m someone who will emerge from being an undrafted free agent to the sky’s the limit.”

If Blake’s skills come anywhere close to matching up with his confidence he could be quite a find for the Steelers.

His size doesn't exactly help him, especially with NFL teams coveting taller wide receivers. But Blake has excellent speed and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake told Steelers.com last week that the third-year veteran is among the fastest players on defense.

After the Steelers didn't take a cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau expressed confidence in current roster players who simply need an opportunity.

When asked if he interpreted the Steelers waiting until the fifth round to draft a cornerback as a vote of confidence in him, Blake said, “It is to a certain extent, but I know I have to come out here every day and earn my keep, continue to improve on my technique because on the field it’s what have you done for me lately. One of my strong points is my speed and my ability to stay with guys.”

How far those attributes take Blake, who went undrafted coming out of UTEP, remains to be seen. But when reminded that his goal of becoming an All-Pro cornerback is a rather lofty one, Blake said, “it is but I’m going to work every day until I get to it.”
PITTSBURGH -- Of the many things to like about the Pittsburgh Steelers picking Ryan Shazier in the first round of the NFL draft, here is another one: to peg him as just an inside linebacker is shortsighted.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Steelers selected Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick in the first round.
"Ultimately, you're in sub packages so much that you really need to have guys that can match up, and that's what Shazier brings, and he brings pass-rushing ability," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said during a post-draft conference call. "I think they [the Steelers] get faster and more athletic with that pick alone."

Yes, they do.

"When we took Ryan, we talked about a defensive playmaker over anything else," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He fit the bill in that regard."

The speedy Shazier is also the kind of player defenses need in order to counter offenses that spread out and increasingly force defenses out of their base set.

"What's happening today is there are multiple receiver personnel groupings, like 60 to 65 percent of the time," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "[Shazier] fits the part of the game that is starting to put faster people on the field."

Shazier ran a sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State's pro day, and he is so fast that Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake asked Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby during a pre-draft visit if Shazier could play safety.

And he wasn't joking.

"There is no reason why he couldn't play safety," said Lake, the former Steelers standout who played safety and cornerback during his 13-year NFL career. "This guy is big and fast and aggressive. If for some reason Keith Butler doesn't like him, I'll take him."

That's not going to happen.

But Shazier is going to line up at different spots because of his speed, versatility and ability to play in space.

"He has the athleticism to drop back into coverage and match up," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "He has speed. He's going to get on people quicker than they know because he's very fast."

Shazier is not even the fastest player in the Steelers' draft class -- third-round pick Dri Archer takes that honor -- which shows how much of a premium Pittsburgh put on adding speed through the draft.

"I think you covet speed, but it's football, not a track meet," Tomlin said. "If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it's an asset. Speed players that we were able to acquire in this draft fit that bill: football players first who happen to be extremely fast."
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


PITTSBURGH -- A wrap-up of the Pittsburgh Steelers' draft. Click here for a full list of Steelers draftees.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Steelers expect big things from Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.
Best move: Taking Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in the second round. The Steelers had no bigger need than at defensive end, and they were smart to pounce on Tuitt, who had been widely projected to go late in the first round. The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder has the ideal build for a five-technique defensive end, and he also has the pass-rushing skills to move inside when the Steelers go to their nickel package. Tuitt had 21 career sacks at Notre Dame, and the Steelers are convinced his play slipped last season because recovery from double-hernia surgery compromised his training and caused him to put on too much weight. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Tuitt is back to his 2012 playing weight when he dominated for the Fighting Irish, and they expect him to play significantly as a rookie if not start at some point in 2014.

Riskiest move: The Steelers took just one defensive back in the draft and they didn’t select cornerback Shaquille Richardson of Arizona until the fifth round. That won’t do anything to allay the anxiety of Steelers’ fans about the state of the secondary and specifically cornerback where Ike Taylor isn’t getting younger and where there isn’t much depth. Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said he is confident free-agent signee Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, who played almost exclusively on special teams last season, can be key contributors this season. They better be since the draft didn’t deliver the reinforcements at cornerback that most thought it would.

Most surprising move: The Steelers bypassed a cornerback and wide receiver in the third round to take speedy but diminutive running back Dri Archer. This looks like a luxury pick since the Steelers had more pressing needs when they selected the 5-8, 173-pounder. Archer ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL combine, and the Steelers plan to carve out a role for him in the offense. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has compared Archer to Darren Sproles because of his explosiveness and versatility. Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said Archer reminds him of former Browns scatback/receiver Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil. “He’s not small,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s short.”

File it away: First-round pick Ryan Shazier will be an immediate difference-maker as a rookie -- and will make multiple Pro Bowls if he stays healthy. His speed is such that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has said he envisions playing Shazier all over the field. Lake said he will gladly take Shazier as a safety if linebackers coach Keith Butler doesn’t want him. Butler, when told that, smiled and said “I’m not in favor of doing that. Shazier can make mistakes and has make-up speed to get back into position and make plays.” Butler scoffs at the notion that the 6-1, 237-pound Shazier is undersized for an inside linebacker at this level. Butler said former Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior played between 225 and 230 pounds in the latter part of his carer, including 2010 when he made the Pro Bowl. “A lot of times young linebackers get in their head, ‘I have to weigh 250 or I have to weigh 260 [pounds] but can they move? Can they get where they need to be when they need to be there? This guy can do that.”
PITTSBURGH -- No one at Pittsburgh Steelers’ headquarters could have been happier than Dick LeBeau by the end of Friday night.

The first two rounds of the NFL draft provided the Steelers’ defensive coordinator with a speedy, instinctual linebacker who could be used all over the field -- think a certain iconic safety who is nearing the end of a spectacular career-- as well as a hulking defensive end who could be a steal if his motivation stays up and his weight stays down.

A delayed flight from New York made linebacker Ryan Shazier late for his own introductory news conference Friday afternoon but the first-round pick otherwise arrived just in time for a defense that badly needed an infusion of speed and youth.

The timing, meanwhile, couldn’t have been better for defensive end Stephon Tuitt to fall into the middle part of the second round after he had been widely projected as a late first-round pick. The Steelers gave up 4.3 yards per carry last season -- their highest since 1999, according to ESPN Stats & Info -- and had a gaping hole at defensive end.

Tuitt could help solve both problems, and sooner rather than later.

He may be starting this season along with Shazier on a defense that is in the midst of a pretty serious makeover.

Yes, that is right.

LeBeau said the Steelers will remove the training wheels from Shazier and Tuitt faster than they do with most first-year players.

And that is saying something considering how conservative the Steelers generally play it with their rookies.

“Both of these players, if all develops as anticipated, are going to get a lot of playing time.” LeBeau said. “Sometimes in the past we’ve been in a position where our draft choices didn’t necessarily have to play for a year or so. That is definitely not the case in this situation.”

The Steelers have already drafted two potential starters, and their third-round pick could also make an immediate impact though Kent State running back Dri Archer looks like a luxury pick for a team that can’t afford any of those.

Archer is faster than a rumor, if on the small side, and the Steelers will try to use his speed and versatility to create mismatches.

If offensive coordinator Todd Haley is excited about the possibilities Archer provides him when calling plays, LeBeau feels the same way about Shazier.

LeBeau, in fact, said Shazier could be used in ways similar to strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has long been hard for opposing offenses to track because he lines up in so many different places.

“From what I have been able to gain from watching him play, there is not a heck of a lot that you can ask him to do that he doesn’t have the athletic ability to do it,” LeBeau said of Shazier. “He’s going to be a problem. He’s going to get on people quicker than they know because he’s very fast.”

Fast could apply to several things when it comes to Shazier, including how long it takes him to crack the starting lineup.
videoPITTSBURGH -- The pick: Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

My take: The Steelers added more speed, and arguably the fastest player in the draft, when they took Archer in the third round Friday night. This seems like a little early to take a running back, even one who could add a dynamic element to the offense. Archer is a blur -- running backs coach James Saxon said the Steelers timed him in under 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine -- but he is also small. Not that the Steelers will ask the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder to shoulder much of a workload. Archer will be used as a situational back as well as a kick returner, and he averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season while also catching 25 passes for 327 yards.

The Steelers tried this two years ago with ultra-fast Chris Rainey, and he was pedestrian even before they cut ties with him due to off-the-field issues. They must think Archer is a much better player, and his versatility and production at Kent State impressed the Steelers as much as his sheer speed. Archer rushed for 2,342 career yards and had 1,194 career receiving yards while also starring as a return specialist for the Golden Flashes. He should at least make an impact in the return game as a rookie.

Still waiting: Who would have guessed this? Two days and three rounds into the draft, the Steelers have yet to take a cornerback or a wide receiver. They have addressed inside linebacker, defensive end and running back, with only the middle position qualifying as one of serious need. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he is not worried about the Steelers' depth at cornerback. "I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have, and we have more numbers there than people realize," LeBeau said. "We may have great players in the building; they just haven’t had the chance to show us they are greater."

What’s next: The Steelers will be plenty busy Saturday. They have one pick in the fourth round -- which starts at noon -- two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh. The Steelers have made some late-round finds in recent years, getting wide receiver Antonio Brown, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round or later since 2010.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell made a solid first impression during his introductory news conference on Thursday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping the safety who is counted on to replace Ryan Clark makes an equally impressive impact on the field.

Mitchell, who represents one of the bigger investments the Steelers have made in free agency, moved seamlessly between confidence and humility while delivering several pointed messages.

Mitchell said his best football is in front of him and that if it doesn't work out in Pittsburgh it won’t be because of a lack of effort.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell believes his personality and physical style of play will mesh well with the Steelers.
“I work extremely hard,” Mitchell said to an audience that included Steelers president Art Rooney II as well as his parents. “I can say this with the utmost confidence: If you put me in a room with anyone, I think he’s going to die first when it comes to working out. I just have that work ethic and tenacity.”

Mitchell sounded a lot like Clark, and there are notable similarities.

Like Clark, Mitchell is of the belief that hard hits and intimidation are still the essence of football no matter how much NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tries to emphasize safety.

He also uses perceived slights to drive him, and in Mitchell's case they range from getting overlooked by the alpha college programs to the criticism he received during the four seasons he spent with the Raiders.

“I play with a very big chip on my shoulder, and just because you went to LSU and I went to Ohio (University) you’re no better than me, and I look forward to proving that every single Sunday,” Mitchell said.

It is probably just a coincidence that Mitchell invoked Clark’s alma mater when discussing his approach to football. The two could probably have a heck of debate about who was overlooked more, Mitchell coming out of high school outside of Cincinnati, or the undrafted Clark coming out of college.

All that really matters to the Steelers is that Mitchell, 26, can play like a younger Clark and complement Troy Polamalu in the secondary.

All signs point to him doing just that – and at a more than reasonable price considering only $5.25 million of the $25 million contract that Mitchell signed this week is guaranteed.

Mitchell put everything together after leaving Oakland for Carolina, and he thrived when he got a chance to start on a regular basis for the first time in his career.

Mitchell intercepted four passes and forced two fumbles in the one season he played for the Panthers, also recording 3 sacks and 74 tackles.

That stat line suggests a varied skill set that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is sure to put to good use in 2014.

Mitchell chatted up LeBeau at the Steelers’ practice facility before the news conference that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin could not attend because they were at Oklahoma State’s pro day.

Mitchell could make LeBeau look a lot smarter this fall if his ball skills transfer from Carolina, and if he is indeed correct that he has yet to play his best football.

“Every year I feel like I’m getting smarter, taking care of my body better,” Mitchell said. “I look very much forward to helping (the Steelers) get back to being that dominant defense that they’ve been.”

Steelers fans apparently feel the same way.

Mitchell said he added close to 10,000 Twitter followers after tweeting on Tuesday night that he had signed with the Steelers.

The “warm feeling” he said he received from Steelers fans isn’t the only reason why Mitchell checks his Twitter account on a regular basis.

Mitchell, who was such an unknown that even ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had to scramble for information to discuss after the Raiders made him a surprise second-round pick in 2009, actually embraces the dark side of social media.

The more blistering the criticism the better when it comes to Mitchell, who will apparently find an edge wherever he can and use it to his advantage.

“Those type of things are what motivates me and helps me get out of bed in the morning,” Mitchell said.

The 6-foot, 210-pounder also finds motivation while walking past the library where the Steelers' six Lombardi Trophies are displayed.

“This is definitely a life-changing experience,” Mitchell said. "I know what the franchise is about, and the way that they play football here I really think fits my personality, it’s very hard-nosed. I can't wait to get to work."
PITTSBURGH -- Ike Taylor is willing to move to safety to prolong his playing career. And the veteran cornerback stopped just short of saying he would take a pay cut to stay with the Steelers.

As for his future in Pittsburgh, Taylor put it best when he said in an interview with FOX Sports that, “I would love to retire as a Steeler but you just never know. Time will tell.”

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"You've got to understand as a business it will always be a young man's sport and I understand that," Ike Taylor said.
Like defensive end Brett Keisel did earlier this week at the Super Bowl, Taylor said he still believes he has some good years left in an NFL career that really gained traction in 2005 when the former fourth-round draft pick capped a superb season with an interception that helped the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

But Taylor is also facing a similar reality as Keisel if he wants to continue his career in Pittsburgh.

Taylor is due a base salary of $7 million in 2014, and the 11th-year veteran has an enormous cap hit ($11.94 million) due to the contract restructures that turned salary into signing bonus money.

He will have to accept a pay cut to return to the Steelers and a couple of things Taylor said on Thursday make it seem like he is open to one.

Taylor is well aware that age -- he turns 34 in May -- and the Steelers' salary-cap situation will shape upcoming discussions between the organization and his agent, Joel Segal. And he said he won't let pride get in the way of decisions he has to make regarding his future.

“You've got to understand it's a business,” Taylor said. “You've got to understand as a business it will always be a young man's sport and I understand that.”

One of the Steelers' top priorities this offseason is getting younger in the secondary, and Taylor's play slipped enough last season that near the end of it defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stopped flipping his cornerbacks so Taylor could shadow marquee wide receivers.

But if the Steelers don't bring Taylor back for another season they will go into the 2014 season with Cortez Allen and William Gay as their starting cornerbacks. And there is no experienced depth behind them unless the Steelers sign a free-agent cornerback.

The Steelers are going to draft at least one cornerback early, and Taylor would give them the luxury of not having to depend on rookie cornerbacks next season while also helping those players adjust to the NFL.

As for playing safety, the Steelers have not given any indication that Taylor could move to the back end of their defense. But he is serious enough about doing it that he has talked with Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson about what such a transition would entail.

Lake and Woodson each played cornerback and safety during their respective NFL careers.

“I want to play football so if they ask me (to play safety) I'm doing it regardless,” Taylor said.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin has filled the one opening he has on his staff right now, and it looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers coach hit a home run.

Mike Munchak has agreed to become the Steelers' next offensive line coach, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and the fourth one during Tomlin's seven-year tenure.

Munchak interviewed in Pittsburgh last Friday and his history makes him the ideal choice to mold a young offensive line that returns every starter next season and should also get Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back from a major knee injury.

Munchak, one of the greatest guards in NFL history, is in the Pro Football of Fame, and he also distinguished himself coaching the offensive lines in Houston and Tennessee.

Munchak rose to head coach in Tennessee but he was fired earlier this month after the Titans went 7-9 and he refused to make sweeping changes to his staff.

Munchak has extensive experience teaching the outside zone blocking scheme that would appear to be an ideal fit for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers installed the scheme last year but ditched it following the torn knee that Pouncey sustained eight snaps into the Steelers' season opener.

Munchak has Pennsylvania roots as he is a Scranton native who starred at Penn State in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He becomes the third assistant on Tomlin's staff who was previously a head coach joining defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in that distinction.

Munchak takes over for Jack Bicknell Jr., whom Tomlin fired after just one season.
PITTSBURGH -- A surprising name has surfaced in connection with the opening the Baltimore Ravens have at offensive coordinator.

Coach John Harbaugh announced on Tuesday that Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson is among four finalists for the job that became open when the Detroit Lions hired Jim Caldwell as their head coach.

Wilson is eminently qualified for the job, and he probably would have been promoted to offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh had he not been badly burned in a house fire in January, 2012.

The surprise is that the Steelers have granted Wilson permission to interview with their chief rival. Wilson is to meet with Harbaugh this week, presumably in Mobile, Ala., where NFL coaches are scouting Senior Bowl practices and interviewing draft prospects.

The Steelers could have blocked Wilson from interviewing with the Ravens since it is not for a head-coaching job. The guess here is that Mike Tomlin does not want to deny Wilson, who has been with him since 2007 in Pittsburgh, an opportunity given how loyal Wilson has been and what he persevered through to return to coaching.

Wilson would be attractive to the Ravens because of Baltimore's need to fix a running game that faltered badly in 2013. The Ravens averaged just 83.0 rushing yards per game, ranking 30th in the NFL in that cateogry. They averaged just 3.1 yards per cary, last in the NFL.

Wilson is the second Steelers assistant coach who has been linked to a coordinator job elsewhere.

Linebackers coach Keith Butler was considered one of the favorites to become new coach Ken Whisenhunt’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee. But Butler, who is considered the heir apparent to Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh, never interviewed for the job.

In addition to Wilson, the other finalists for the job in Baltimore are former Rams head coach and Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler.

There has been only one change to Tomlin's coaching staff so far, as he fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., this month.

Former Titans coach Mike Munchak interviewed for the job of offensive line coach last week in Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH -- Free safety Ryan Clark probably won’t return for another season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he made clear that there shouldn’t be a question about defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s future with the team.

LeBeau, 76, has said he wants to return in 2014, and all signs point to that happening -- even if coach Mike Tomlin did not commit to retaining either coordinator this week.

“He’s still sharp, he’s able to make the calls and create the defense we need each and every week,” Clark said. “So when you have him like that, when you have the experience that he’s had, why would you kick him out of football? Why would you not want him in the building? So I think if he wants to come back, he will.”

[+] EnlargeLeBeau
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesDefensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's unit ranked
No. 13 in total defense this season.
The Steelers led the NFL in total defense in 2011 and 2012, but slipped to No. 13 this season.

There were plenty of reasons for that decline. LeBeau slowing down because of age is not among them.

He could easily pass for someone who is 20 years younger and, as Clark observed, “He’s just the same coach LeBeau. Does his push-ups, does his jogs, runs around the field, excited about work every morning. He’s still sharp.”

It’s hard to put into words the respect and love LeBeau commands from his players, and I’m talking every one of them.

Does that mean he should be allowed to coach as long as he wants? No.

But I think LeBeau and the Steelers will both know when it’s time for him to go -- and presumably turn over his coordinator duties to linebackers coach Keith Butler.

The Steelers don’t need a new coordinator to again become one of the top defenses in the NFL. They need a couple of more playmakers, an infusion of youth in the secondary, and maybe a prototypical nose tackle to help shore up the run defense. LeBeau, and I cannot state this strongly enough, is part of the solution, not the problem.

“I know he’s still very capable,” Clark said of LeBeau, “so I’m sure if he wants to come back there’s nobody that’s going to lock him out of this building.”

Clark, one of 21 Steelers who will become unrestricted free agents in March, is facing that very real possibility.

He is well aware that he is on the wrong side of 30 and that the Steelers parted ways with franchise cornerstones Hines Ward, James Farrior, James Harrison, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton the previous two years.

“I understand how the process works,” said the 32-year-old Clark, who just completed his 12th NFL season. “I also know just recently how it’s worked for guys over 10 years, guys over 30, so I understand it could be a slow process.”

Clark has said the he intends to play next season, even if it is not with the Steelers.

“It’s been an awesome experience, either way it goes,” he said of his time with the Steelers. "I’m excited to see what happens next.”

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