AFC North: Dick LeBeau

James Harrison putting retirement on hold does not mean he will be back in Pittsburgh in 2015.

And that is even if the Steelers want to re-sign the five-time Pro Bowl player, with depth at outside linebacker among their biggest concerns.

Harrison
Harrison
Harrison, who announced on social media that he intends to play in 2015, could be more likely to follow Dick LeBeau to Tennessee than to suit up for the Steelers for another season.

His loyalty to the former Steelers defensive coordinator knows no bounds. And LeBeau might want Harrison to provide a short-term charge to the Titans' defense while providing an example to Tennessee’s younger players with his maniacal work ethic and approach to the game.

The timing might be right for the Steelers and Harrison to make a break once and for all.

The Steelers have to commit to their younger players on defense – and specifically Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker.

Harrison probably would balk at returning to the Steelers as insurance if Jones gets hurt again or falters after recording just three sacks in his first 21 games.

He might not embrace relocating, if only temporarily, but LeBeau is the one coach Harrison would follow just about anywhere.

That is why he is more likely to play for the Titans in 2015 than the Steelers.
Dick LeBeau, in his farewell to Pittsburgh earlier this month, paid homage to the 2008 defense that led the Steelers to the Super Bowl title.

LeBeau, the coordinator of that esteemed defense, talked at length on a day honoring him about the key players on that unit.

Clark
And he certainly did not forget about Ryan Clark, who was often overshadowed by the great players on that defense, and especially by fellow safety Troy Polamalu.

"One of the smartest men and, pound for pound, maybe one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen,” LeBeau said of Clark during a ceremony in which Pittsburgh City Council gave LeBeau a symbolic key to the city.

Steelers fans would do well to remember those words when it comes to Clark’s legacy in Pittsburgh.

As hard-hitting off the field as he was on it – and he backed down from no one -- Clark could rankle fans, reporters and maybe even some of his teammates with his nonstop chatter and outspoken nature.

He infamously referred to the Pittsburgh media as “turds” in the midst of the Steelers’ 2009 second-half collapse. Two seasons later, a Steelers media relations staffer had to separate Clark and another reporter after they nearly came to blows at training camp.

If Clark’s look-at-me ways could be grating, they were also not surprising.

Clark had to fight his way into the NFL after going undrafted in 2002 and signing with the New York Giants.

He climbed the ranks as an undersized safety and never lost his edge even after he established himself as Polamalu’s running mate on the back end of the Steelers’ defense.

Clark served an indispensable role on some great Steelers’ defenses as his familiarity with Polamalu allowed the eight-time Pro Bowl safety to play all over the field, knowing that Clark had his back.

And Clark could deliver a pop.

Willis McGahee will never forget the shot that Clark delivered at the end of the 2008 AFC Championship Game -- if the former Baltimore Ravens running back remembers it in the first place.

Clark hit McGahee so hard that fans at Heinz Field weren’t sure whether to gasp or cheer, and the ghastly collision knocked out both players.

That willingness to give up his body is Clark’s legacy, as are the strong opinions he routinely offered while not giving a hoot about whom they ticked off.

In the end, Clark did it his way.

And he did it for 13 seasons in the NFL, overcoming a life-threatening injury along the way, while staying true to himself right up until he announced his retirement.
PITTSBURGH -- There is significant change coming with Keith Butler succeeding Dick LeBeau as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator.

But that is more in Butler’s increased responsibilities and not in the Steelers’ fundamental approach to playing defense, general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week.

“The coaches will determine the X's and O's [but] I don’t anticipate a huge difference,” Colbert said.

Both Butler and team president Art Rooney II have said Pittsburgh won’t deviate much from what it did under LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator from 2004-14. And Butler shares the same philosophy as LeBeau, whom he worked under for 11 of his 12 seasons with the Steelers.

That doesn’t mean Butler won’t get a chance to put his stamp on a defense that recorded just 33 sacks last season and allowed 4.36 yards per carry, the highest yielded by the Steelers since 1964, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Far from it, Butler will now be more involved in personnel discussions than he had been as the Steelers’ linebackers coach from 2003-14.

“In the past we only got Keith’s input on linebackers. Now he’s going to be talking about defensive linemen, he’s going to be talking about secondary people, so there will be a learning experience for us to hear what his preferences are for those positions,” Colbert said. “We know what he likes and doesn’t like as a linebackers coach, but now it will be the whole defense.”

The Steelers started full staff personnel discussions on Wednesday with position coaches offering grades on players from last season.

Colbert, Tomlin and the Steelers’ scouts and assistant coaches are also putting together the team’s plan for free agency based on needs and players who might be available after the new league year starts on March 10.

Colbert said the list of outside free agents the Steelers may target will be around 30 players. That number, Colbert said, is based on the players the Steelers anticipate being available and those who are within their price range.

“We’ll certainly be looking at improving the pass rush and improving the coverage in the secondary,” Colbert said.
When the Tennessee Titans officially announced the hiring of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on Thursday, it added a layer of intrigue to outside linebacker James Harrison’s football future.

Harrison
Harrison
After the Steelers talked him out of retirement last season, Harrison showed he still can harass quarterbacks -- he finished third on the team with 5.5 sacks despite playing only 11 games -- which is why the five-time Pro Bowler did not rule out continuing his career shortly after Pittsburgh was knocked out of the AFC playoffs.

Harrison now has three potential options: return to the Steelers if they want him back, return to retirement where he has said he was content, or head to Tennessee with LeBeau, the Titans’ new assistant head coach/defense.

The Steelers appear ready to go all the way as far as getting younger on defense and may move on from Harrison despite his success last season and how potentially thin they are at outside linebacker with free agency looming.

If that is the case, it would be a fairly easy decision for Harrison to retire for good so he can devote himself to the two sons whose permission he sought before re-signing with the Steelers last September.

As difficult as it would be for Harrison to leave Pittsburgh, don’t underestimate the LeBeau factor if the Titans have an interest in Harrison.

Harrison is fiercely loyal to LeBeau, who talked coach Bill Cowher out of releasing Harrison in 2004 after the Steelers had signed him to provide training camp depth because of an injury sustained by Clark Haggans.

LeBeau told Cowher he would work with Harrison and that he saw something in the player who already had been released three times by the Steelers and four times overall.

No coach played a greater role in the enormous success Harrison enjoyed after finally sticking with the Steelers than LeBeau.

And their close relationship might make it tough for Harrison to say no if LeBeau asks the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to join him in Tennessee.

The Titans are coming off a 2-14 season and may not have much interest in a player who turns 37 in May. But the example Harrison can set for teammates, particularly younger ones, with his incomparable work ethic might appeal to a struggling franchise.

And if last season is an indication, Harrison still has some football left in him.

Knowing he can still play and his allegiance to LeBeau makes the Titans Harrison’s most likely team in 2015 if he again puts retirement on hold.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is still mulling his football future.

But a freshly shaved Keisel gave a strong indication Wednesday night that he will return for another season if the Steelers want him back.

Keisel
Keisel
“I’ve been preparing for when that day comes, and by 'that day' I mean the end,” Keisel told reporters at his Shear Da Beard charity event. “But right now I’m under contract and I’m going to rehab and see (how) things turn out.”

Keisel’s 13th NFL season ended in late November when he tore his triceps in the Steelers’ 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The injury and his advanced football age raised questions about whether the 36-year-old Keisel has played his last down for the Steelers.

The Steelers’ change in defensive coordinator from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler cast more uncertainty on the future of Keisel and a handful of veterans.

But, much like veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, Keisel proved he could still play last season after the Steelers re-signed him in August.

Keisel finished fourth on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures despite missing the last four games. He also batted down six passes and made his second career interception.

Rookie Stephon Tuitt emerged after Keisel went down, and the 2014 second-round draft pick has the look of a cornerstone player. But Keisel had to accept a part-time role when he returned last season, and the Steelers don’t have much at defensive end behind Tuitt and Cameron Heyward.

Keisel and Cam Thomas are each signed for one more season, and if it comes down to a choice between the two, it's close to a no-brainer to bring Keisel back.

Thomas is younger and also plays nose tackle. But Keisel outplayed him in 2014 and Thomas' position flexibility isn't as valuable since the Steelers already have a pair of nose tackles in Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers, who will play more in 2015 if he makes the improvement coach Mike Tomlin expects from players in their second NFL seasons.

Whatever the Steelers decide to do, Keisel seems at peace with what happens next.

“It’s getting close,” he said of retirement. “That’s the way this business goes.”
PITTSBURGH -- Dick LeBeau is a Pro Football Hall of Fame player, one of the great innovators in NFL history, and a scratch golfer who regularly shoots south of his age.

As with football, he probably has forgotten more about history and music than most people will ever know, and the Renaissance man with the folksy touch displayed Tuesday morning his considerable skills as a storyteller.

With family, friends and two of his former players packed into the stately wood-paneled room where Pittsburgh City Council meets, LeBeau bid a poignant farewell, even if he stopped short of calling it that, right before he was presented with a symbolic key to the city.

[+] EnlargeDick LeBeau
AP Photo/Gene PuskarLongtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was presented with a symbolic key to the city on Tuesday, and City Council proclaimed February Dick LeBeau Month in Pittsburgh.
The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, who parted ways with the organization last month, paid tribute to the defense that might be the nearest and dearest to his heart. He did a Myron Cope imitation so spot on that the late Steelers broadcaster had to be waving a "Terrible Towel" somewhere.

And after City Council had officially proclaimed February Dick LeBeau Month in Pittsburgh, he neatly summed up the ceremony in four words.

"Pretty cool day, huh?" LeBeau said.

Yes, yes it was.

LeBeau added another honor to a lifetime that is full of them -- and one that is rarely bestowed upon an assistant coach.

Then again, LeBeau was much more than that during his two coaching stints in Pittsburgh.

He is the only coach or player to take part in all four Steelers' Super Bowls post 1970s. And his famed zone-blitz concepts helped make the Steelers’ defense one of the nastiest ones in the NFL for almost a decade.

Indeed, LeBeau compared the 2008 defense that allowed the fewest yards (237.2 per game) and points (13.9 per game) in the NFL -- and led the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl title -- to the Steel Curtain units that owned the 1970s.

In typical LeBeau fashion he downplayed his role in the success of the defenses that were the foundation of the teams that played in three Super Bowls from 2005-10 and won two.

"I got to ride along and I enjoyed it and I certainly enjoyed today," said LeBeau, 77, who coached the Steelers from 1992-96 and 2004-2014 and was their defensive coordinator for all but three of those seasons.

His players know better, which is why outside linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel attended the ceremony that officially honored LeBeau’s contributions to Pittsburgh.

"Football-wise he’ll go down as one of the greatest ever, but why James is here and why I am here is because of what he did for us off the field," Keisel said when the floor was opened for remarks following the proclamation of Dick LeBeau Month in Pittsburgh. "It was much-needed for a group of guys who were wild and crazy and could have easily went the other way. I’ll forever be grateful for his influence in my life. I love you to death, coach."

Bill Priatko, who formed an enduring friendship with LeBeau when the two were rookie roommates at Cleveland Browns training camp in the late 1950s, said LeBeau has never changed despite his success.

"Everybody knows what he is as a coach, but many, many people have found out what kind of man he is," said Priatko, one of LeBeau’s closest friends. "His loyalty, his love for people, his integrity. He made everybody feel like he was the most important person in the world. Like Brett and James and all of the guys who have played for him, I say the same thing: Coach, I love ya."

One of LeBeau’s signatures while with the Steelers was his stirring reading of "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" every year at the team Christmas party. He borrowed from the last line of that timeless poem to close his 10-minute speech Tuesday morning.

"God bless you all, people of Pittsburgh," LeBeau said, "and to all a good night."

Dick LeBeau won't coach in Arizona

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
7:05
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Former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau won’t be resurfacing in the desert despite meeting with the Arizona Cardinals last week.

Coach Bruce Arians told ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss on Monday that he could not persuade LeBeau to join his staff.

“I think just the distance with his family,” Arians said. “He expects a lot of interest. Of course, I had a lot of interest but I think the distance and he just decided what he wants to do.”

LeBeau is available after the Steelers did not renew his contract and later promoted longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator.

LeBeau lives in Cincinnati and he prefers to coach east of the Mississippi River so he doesn’t have to stray too far from home.

LeBeau, 77, made it clear that he wants to continue coaching when Mike Tomlin asked him his plans a week after the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

One possible landing spot for LeBeau is in Tennessee.

He and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt coached together in Pittsburgh and are good friends. Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton coached the secondary in Pittsburgh before becoming a coordinator, first in Arizona and now in Tennessee, and is a LeBeau protégé.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II reiterated what new defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the team’s website last week: the defense won’t fundamentally change even though the Steelers and Dick LeBeau have parted ways.

Worilds
The Steelers will continue with the 3-4 as their base defense and the emphasis will remain on stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

“I am not sure I see anything dramatic other than to acknowledge that the game is changing,” Rooney said in regard to Butler succeeding LeBeau. “Keeping up with offenses these days is a real challenge. But I think Keith is very knowledgeable and has been around a long time. He has seen a lot of defensive football in his days. We are excited to have him as our defensive coordinator.”

Butler will run the Steelers’ defense after coaching the team’s linebackers since 2003. His challenge isn’t just following LeBeau, one of the great defensive minds in NFL history.

It is also getting more big plays out of a defense that managed just 33 sacks in 2014 and had 21 takeaways.

Only six NFL teams had fewer sacks than the Steelers in 2014.

“We need to be able to pressure the quarterback more consistently,” Rooney said. “Some of the games that we were successful in this season, I think we were able to do that. I think that’s the key to stopping these high-powered offenses. You have to be able to pressure the quarterback. We need to create some more turnovers [too], those kinds of things.”

The Steelers have to get more out of their outside linebackers next season and that position is fraught with uncertainty.

Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2013, is the only outside linebacker on the roster with NFL experience who is signed beyond 2014. And he has just three career sacks though Jones essentially lost this season after dislocating his right wrist in the third game.

Jason Worilds, who has 15.5 sacks in the past two seasons, will be an unrestricted free agent if the Steelers don’t sign or tag the fifth-year veteran before March 10.

The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million in 2014 after using the transition tag on the 2010 second-round pick. They have the option of tagging him again though the Steelers would like to sign Worilds to a multi-year contract that would be more cap friendly than the deal he had in 2014.

“We would like to keep Jason,” Rooney said. “He had a good year. Like anything else, if the two sides can come to an agreement on a contract we would like to keep him.”
PITTSBURGH -- The stability and continuity of the Pittsburgh Steelers compelled Keith Butler to patiently wait his turn and not pursue defensive coordinator jobs outside of the organization.

Little surprise then that Butler isn’t planning on implementing sweeping changes now that he has succeeded longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Butler, in an interview with Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola, said his philosophy will be to stop the run and get after opposing quarterbacks.

Sound familiar?

“We have to make offenses one-dimensional if we can, and we have to put pressure on the quarterback,” Butler told the team’s website on Tuesday, not long after the Steelers announced his promotion from linebackers coach. “If we can do those things, then we can help the offense. We have to get the ball back for the offense -- that’s our main goal.”

Only six teams had less than the 11 interceptions that the Steelers managed in 2014. The Steelers, meanwhile, tied for 15th in the NFL with 10 fumble recoveries.

One way for the Steelers to create more turnovers is to get more players around the football.

“There’s nothing that pleases me more than to see the guys surrounding the ball, and gang tackling,” Butler said, “and playing what I call team defense, and relying on each other to be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.”

Butler said the Steelers will be multiple on defense and play both the 3-4 and 4-3. That is something they have done for years, essentially going to a 4-3 when they employ their nickel package in passing situations.

Butler promised an attacking defense though not necessarily a change in scheme and certainly not one in general philosophy.

“Everybody says the best pass defense is pressure on the quarterback, and that’s probably true,” said Butler, who was the Steelers' linebackers coach from 2003-14. “If the quarterback can’t get the ball off, your pass defense is going to be pretty good. You want to put pressure on the quarterback, but you still have to have those athletes along the back end who can cover.”

Elsewhere:
  • The Steelers signed safety Isaiah Lewis on Tuesday. Lewis signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last May after going undrafted. The Bengals waived the 5-foot-10, 211-pound Lewis in August. Lewis developed a reputation as a big hitter at Michigan State and he earned an invitation to the NFL scouting combine last year.

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PITTSBURGH -- What had been inevitable when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dick LeBeau parted ways became official Tuesday when the organization promoted longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator.

Good for Butler, who has patiently waited for his chance to run a defense.

And probably good for the Steelers, who get continuity with Butler as well as someone who brings his own ideas on how to run Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

The challenge facing Butler, who turned down a handful of opportunities to interview for other defensive coordinator jobs in past years, is considerable.

The iconic LeBeau casts a long shadow at Steelers headquarters. And he did some of his finest work in 2014 when he cobbled together a defense beset by injuries and not exactly overflowing with talent before some key players got hurt.

[+] EnlargeKeith Butler and Ryan Shazier
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicKeith Butler will likely lean on Ryan Shazier and other linebackers in his first season as the Steelers' defensive coordinator.
The Steelers finished 18th in both scoring (23.0 points per game allowed) and total defense (353.4 yards per game allowed), but the defense improved as the season progressed.

Butler has to build on that and will need help from young players such as linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers' first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have to succeed for Pittsburgh's defense to take a significant step forward next season.

The Steelers still don't know what they have in Jones, who has three career sacks and essentially lost the 2014 season when he dislocated his wrist in Pittsburgh's third game.

He has to emerge as a pass-rushing force since putting more pressure on the quarterback will be Butler's top priority -- and since Jones is the only outside linebacker on the 53-man roster who is signed for next season.

The speedy Shazier had his own injury issues this season -- the Ohio State product missed seven games with knee and ankle injuries -- but he has to become a playmaker in the middle of a defense that is in need of them.

Butler, who has to coax more out of Jones and Shazier, will give the Steelers a different dynamic as far as personality.

Whereas LeBeau was beloved by players, who didn't want to fail him because it would be like letting down their father, Butler is a straight talker with a Southern drawl who won't hesitate to be blunt with his players.

He bided his time as an NFL assistant, coaching the linebackers for four seasons in Cleveland and the past 12 in Pittsburgh.

Now it is his time for Butler to manage what LeBeau left in place with the Steelers while also putting his own imprint on the defense.
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PITTSBURGH -- It finally looks like the end of an era for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers appear poised for a complete overhaul of their defense, following the resignation of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. It's an overhaul that has been ongoing since 2012.

The departure of LeBeau, who wanted to return for another season, all but assures outside linebacker James Harrison, defensive end Brett Keisel and cornerback Ike Taylor won't be back in 2015.

[+] EnlargeLeBeau
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesThe departure of Dick LeBeau might signal the exit of several prominent defensive players.
It will also be a surprise if strong safety Troy Polamalu returns for a 13th NFL season. Polamalu, after Pittsburgh's loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card game, said it is fair to question whether he has played his last game for the Steelers.

The departure of LeBeau might be a tipping point for Polamalu, if the eight-time Pro Bowl is still mulling his future.

That is how beloved LeBeau is by his players and how much his exit will sting for them.

The Steelers, however, were in a near-impossible position as long as LeBeau wanted to continue coaching.

The Steelers could not keep linebackers coach Keith Butler -- long believed to be LeBeau's successor as the team's defensive coordinator -- waiting forever, and at some point someone other than Dick LeBeau was going to coach Pitsburgh's defense.

If the decision not to bring LeBeau back for another season has anything to do with an organizational belief that his coaching has slipped in recent years, then shame on the Steelers.

The 77-year-old LeBeau defies birth certificates and conventional thinking about age. He inspires his players, who hated to fail him because they felt they were letting down their own fathers.

That is his legacy as much as his zone-blitz innovation and his Pro Football Hall of Fame playing career with the Detroit Lions.

LeBeau is probably as proud of the personal relationships he developed with his players as he is of what he accomplished on the field. Under LeBeau, the Steelers set the standard for NFL defenses while playing in three Super Bowls from 2005 to 2010 and winning two of them.

The Steelers, as much as they embrace the family atmosphere that has been cultivated inside and outside of team headquarters, are also known for making tough decisions. They have cut ties with iconic players going back to the early 1980s (see running back Franco Harris).

They rarely, if ever, let sentiment override business. That approach is what has made the Steelers one of the NFL's most successful franchises and the only one to win six Super Bowls.

It also led to the tough decision to move on from LeBeau, who might have deserved better and in a perfect world would have left on his own terms.
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PITTSBURGH -- Can a team exceed expectations without even matching their own?

The Pittsburgh Steelers put that riddle to the test in 2014 as they won the AFC North after consecutive 8-8 seasons, but fell well short of the Super Bowl.

The Steelers' goal is to contend for a Super Bowl title every season. That might not be in line with reality, but no other team has six Lombardi Trophies.

The Steelers looked like they might make a postseason charge after winning eight of their final 10 games to finish 11-5 and secure the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. But winning their first division title since 2010 came with a heavy cost. Pittsburgh lost All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell to a hyperextended knee in the regular-season finale.

Bell did not play in the Steelers' 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card game at Heinz Field.

Team MVP: The loss to the Ravens magnified Bell's value to the Steelers' offense. Forget for a moment the running aspect -- and the fact that Bell finished second in the NFL with 1,361 rushing yards -- and consider how his loss impacted the passing game. Bell is terrific at picking up blitzing linebackers and he led all NFL running backs in 2014 with 811 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pressed against the Ravens without Bell. The second-year running back emerged as one of the NFL's most complete players, and is the biggest reason why the Steelers' offense rose to another level this season.

Best moment: Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes in consecutive games, leading the Steelers to big wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Ravens. The hottest stretch of Roethlisberger's career came shortly after a desultory loss in Cleveland dropped Pittsburgh to 3-3 -- and .500 in the 38 regular-season games that followed its most recent playoff appearance in 2011. Roethlisberger completed 75.6 percent of his passes for 862 yards and 12 touchdowns with no interceptions in the two games against the Colts and Ravens. That stretch helped him share the NFL passing title with Drew Brees (4,952 yards).

Worst moment: What goes up inevitably comes down, as the Steelers found out when they traveled to East Rutherford, New Jersey, in the second week of November. Pittsburgh followed a three-game winning streak with a performance against the New York Jets that was as listless as it was inexplicable. The Jets won their second game of the season by flashing the opportunism that had been noticeably absent in their trudge to a 1-9 start. The Steelers committed three turnovers in the 14-10 loss against a team that entered the game with the fewest takeaways in the NFL. The Steelers had a handful of bad losses in 2014; none was worse than the one to the Jets.

2015 outlook: The arrow, as coach Mike Tomlin is fond of saying, is pointing up for the Steelers. The offense returns every starter from this season, and young wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are only going to get better. The caveat with the Steelers, though, is two-fold. The defense remains in transition and there are major questions in the secondary as well as at outside linebacker, where only Jarvis Jones is signed beyond this season. Also, next season's schedule isn't nearly as favorable it was this year. Trips to Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City loom after the Steelers' farthest trip west in 2014 was Tennessee. Pittsburgh also has to play at New England.
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison said he will take some time before deciding whether he wants to play a 13th NFL season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin did not commit to the Pittsburgh Steelers bringing back Harrison even if the veteran outside linebacker wants to return.

“I’m going to discuss that with James before I discuss that with you guys, and I mean that sincerely,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his season-ending news conference. “I appreciate what transpired this year, but what transpired this year is not going to have a bearing on how we move forward.”

The Steelers brought Harrison out of retirement in September, and the five-time Pro Bowler recorded 5.5 sacks in 11 regular-season games. Harrison said his body responded so well after he came back that he hasn’t ruled out playing in 2015.

Tomlin is conducting exit interviews with his players and coaches this week. He said he won’t comment on the future of any of them until he has completed all of those talks.

Tomlin isn’t expected to make major changes to his coaching staff. The biggest question is whether longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is 77, will return.

When asked if he wants LeBeau back if LeBeau wants to return in 2015, Tomlin said, “I haven’t talked to Dick, and I’m not going to get into that for the many reasons that I’ve already outlined.”
PITTSBURGH -- Today is critical for Le'Veon Bell as it will be the last chance the second-year running back has to get some work with the offense before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ AFC wild-card playoff game.

But the Steelers' final practice of the week won’t necessarily determine whether Bell plays Saturday night against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Bell could play against the Ravens even if he does not practice this week.

Bell
Bell has yet to practice since hyperextending his right knee last Sunday night, and he has only done some light running since getting hurt in the Steelers’ 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers usually don’t dress players who have not practiced leading up to a game. But it’s easy to see why they would make an exception for Bell, who led the AFC with 1,361 rushing yards and was voted MVP by his teammates last week.

“I don’t know if he could go in and execute everything,” Haley said if Bell is unable to practice today, “but he could handle a bunch.”

Still, the Steelers are expecting the worst and hoping for the best when it comes to their running back situation. That is why they are preparing a committee to make up for the loss of Bell if his streak of playing in 29 consecutive games is snapped.

“It’s not just one guy coming in and doing what he does,” Haley said. “I think it’s a group effort and that includes other positions. That would be too much to put on any one guy what he’s given us.”

A couple of notes:
  • The weather is supposed to be nasty Saturday night with forecasts calling for freezing rain. When asked how bad weather could affect the Steelers’ offense, Haley said, “We’ve got a quarterback that’s a mudder, so to speak, and can play in all conditions. It’s a matter of coaching the guys and making sure everyone understands the focus that’s required whether you’re carrying the bowl, throwing the ball, catching the ball.”
  • Jarvis Jones has played behind James Harrison at right outside linebacker since the former returned from a dislocated wrist in early December. But defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Jones, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2013, is still very much a part of the Steelers’ future. “Jarvis is going to be a very good NFL football player. Very good,” LeBeau said. “He’s just back picking it up. At the end of last year he was starting to impact games pretty regularly and he’s going to get back to that level, in my mind, without a doubt.”

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