AFC North: Dri Archer

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation’s Scott Brown examines the three biggest issues facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp:

Continued growth on offense: The Steelers averaged 26.6 points in winning six of their final eight games last season, and the foundation is in place for them to build on that. It all starts with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t miss a snap last season and is still in the prime of his career. Roethlisberger never looked more in control than when he was running the no-huddle offense, something the Steelers did frequently in the second half of the season. The offseason practices were critical for Roethlisberger and new wide receivers (Lance Moore) and younger ones (Markus Wheaton) to work together in the no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger said the Steelers will add to their no-huddle playbook during the offseason and training camp before picking the best plays. He must be in sync with the wide receivers; Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery must be replaced for the no-huddle attack to hum again. Repetitions during training camp and preseason practice are critical, especially because the players will be in pads and hitting one another. That means the Steelers’ wide receivers especially have to stay relatively healthy during the most important time for team building, developing a rapport with Roethlisberger and earning his trust.

Getting after the quarterback: The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990, and they must get more production from their outside linebackers. Jason Worilds supplanted LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker the second half of last season and led the Steelers with eight sacks. Worilds, hampered by a nagging calf injury during offseason practices, has to show that he can be a pass-rushing force for more than half a season. The former second-round pick has no one blocking his path to the field with Woodley now in Oakland. Jarvis Jones has to justify the Steelers using the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft on him. The former Georgia All-American managed just one sack as a rookie but has improved his strength both physically and in regard to his grasp of the playbook. Jones also has Joey Porter mentoring him, and the Steelers will give Jones every opportunity to succeed. Depth is a concern at outside linebacker, so in addition to providing a consistent pass rush, Worilds and Jones have to stay healthy. If general manager Kevin Colbert is looking to add depth, Steelers fans will be quick to remind him that James Harrison is only a phone call away. What would most help the defense, however, is if Jones can provide the same kind of pass rush that Harrison supplied from the right side of the Steelers’ defense when Harrison made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons.

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.
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.”
PITTSBURGH -- A preseason experiment could lead to the NFL tinkering with the point after touchdown attempt, and to this I say ... really?

I couldn't agree more with NFL columnist Ashley Fox, who recently questioned why the extra point is even on the radar of the league's competition committee. I would be in favor of getting rid of it altogether and rewarding teams with an extra point, which is almost automatic anyway, for scoring a touchdown.

Getting into the end zone in the NFL should be respected even with offenses becoming more and more prolific and scoring showing no sign of abating.

[+] EnlargeDanny Smith
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesAFC North kickers could be at a slight competitive disadvantage if extra point attempts are moved back, argues special-teams coach Danny Smith.
Also, eliminating the extra point would allow the NFL to trim some time off of the length of games, something the league needs to find ways to do without compromising the integrity of its product.

Moving extra-point attempts back -- teams will snap them from the 15-yard line instead of the 3-yard line for their first two preseason games this season -- could actually create a competitive disadvantage albeit a minor one as Steelers' special-teams coordinator Danny Smith pointed out recently.

"A long extra point becomes an issue when you're in Pittsburgh in December, when you're in Cleveland, when you're in Baltimore, when you're in Cincinnati or you're going to New England," Smith said.

Translation: Dome and warm-weather teams will have an advantage if the extra point is moved back.

As for the preseason experiment with extra points, Smith said, “I don't think it's going to really tell us a whole lot in the preseason because we're all going to be kicking in sunny days and hot days like that. I would question fooling with the game at this point I don't have a vote so I don't have an opinion."

Smith did recently offer his take on two subjects more pertinent to the Steelers' special teams than the future of the extra point:

  • On the pool from which the Steelers will choose their primary punt returner in 2014: “Obviously Dri Archer is going to be a big factor. He has a lot to learn, a lot to work on and he does and he will. His speed speaks for itself but there will be a big pool of numbers and again you can never have enough of those kind of guys. We'll filter that down as we get into camp and we get into preseason of who is going to do it and who's not and that will be again a tough decision. We have more to choose from than we've had in the past. That's a great situation to be in."
  • On having Antwon Blake for an entire season and adding Arthur Moats as a free agent helps the kick coverage units: "We've upgraded at that position really from a personnel standpoint and it's my job to get it all on the same page. And I think those guys are going to be great contributors as well with the rookie class coming (and) with those kinds of seasoned vets that you're talking about that have some experience in this business. It's an upgrade and we're going to have to make some tough choices. It's a good situation to be in."
PITTSBURGH -- The offense and defense traded big plays Wednesday in the Pittsburgh Steelers' second minicamp practice of the week.

Ben Roethlisberger threw long touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton during a two-plus hour practice, but the Steelers' defensive backs also had their moments on a hot and humid day that it made it feel like training camp.

Starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen each intercepted Roethlisberger. Allen had a pair of picks while inside linebacker Sean Spence returned an intercepted Landry Jones pass for a touchdown.

Practice concluded with rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant showcasing his speed by blowing past the Steelers' defensive backs and hauling in a long touchdown pass from Jones.

That play, free safety Mike Mitchell said, ultimately allowed the offense to get the better of the defense, though it was close.

"They ended with a high note," Mitchell said. "It would have been nice to knock that ball down but we're battling. I think we've been playing really good in the secondary as a unit. We're all kind of learning each other's strengths and what each other likes to do. We're getting better."

Also of note from Wednesday:
  • Justin Brown continues to get work with the first-team offense, and the 2013 sixth-round pick stood out during a 7-on-9 pass drill. Brown caught a long pass from Roethlisberger and then capped the drive with a short touchdown reception.
  • Roethlisberger is optimistic Dri Archer will help the offense but he isn't sure how the Steelers will deploy the fleet-footed rookie. Archer, Roethlisberger said, has been splitting time between playing running back and wide receiver. The third-round draft pick has also been among the players who have fielded punts during offseason practices. The Steelers are hoping to get more out of Archer than they did Chris Rainey, a fifth-round pick in 2012 who lasted just one season in Pittsburgh. "Is he a better runner than Rainey?" Roethlisberger said. "We won't really know until we get some pads on and get on the field."
  • Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who practiced on a limited basis of a lingering calf injury, is a good example of how much younger the Steelers have gotten on defense in recent years. Worilds turned just 26 in March, but he is one of the more experienced players on the Steelers' defense. "I'm one of the elders in the room now," Worilds said. "It's an interesting role to be in. I'm just helping some of the younger guys, making sure they know how to go about being a professional and taking care of themselves."
PITTSBURGH -- In his first eight games last season, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell rushed for 455 yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. In his final five games, Bell rushed for 405 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry.

Bell, when reflecting on his first NFL season, attributed the improvement to more than just the natural rookie progression.

"I started getting more healthy because my foot was bothering me a lot last year," Bell said after the Steelers' final voluntary offseason practice. "The more healthy I got, the more reps I got, the slower the game became to me and the more confidence I got in myself. Hopefully I just come in (to this season) healthy and pick up where I left off last year."

Bell, who missed the Steelers' first three games in 2013 because of a mid-foot sprain, said the injury is no longer an issue, and it will be interesting to see how heavily the Steelers lean on the 6-1, 244-pounder this season.

The Steelers' backfield has gotten a makeover since the end of last season with the team signing free agent LeGarrette Blount and using a third-round draft pick on Dri Archer.

The 6-feet, 250-pound Blount is a bruiser who was the New England Patriots' best running back by the end of last season. The 5-8, 173-pound Archer is a blur who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the NFL scouting combine -- and has been every bit as fast as advertised during the Steelers' offseason practices.

Bell, who won the Joe Greene Performance Award as the Steelers' top rookie last season, said the three running backs complement one another.

"There's a lot of different running styles in the backfield," the 2013 second-round pick said. "Dri, obviously one of the fastest guys in the NFL today. LeGarrette's one of the bigger running backs, a more physical guy and me, I guess I'm kind of in the middle. I'm not the fastest or the strongest, but I'm kind of balanced."

How the Steelers use the three backs as they try to improve a rushing attack that ranked 27th in the NFL last season (86.4 yards per game) remains to be seen.

But both Bell and Blount said they can play at the same time while Archer is projected to get snaps at running back and wide receiver this season.

"Because of my skill set I can be a receiver and (Blount) can be at the running back position," Bell said. "There's definitely times we could both be out there."

When asked if he could see any scenarios in which all three running backs are on the field at the same time, Bell smiled.

"I don't think they're going to do that," Bell said. "They don't like us that much. There's a lot of different packages, so we're going to see what we can do."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers signed wide receiver Martavis Bryant to a four-year contract on Monday, leaving just two of their nine draft picks unsigned.

The Steelers picked Bryant in the fourth round of the NFL draft last month after he averaged 22.2 yards per catch during his three seasons at Clemson. The 6-4, 212-pound speedster set a major college football record in averaging just over 22 yards per reception. Bryant also broke the ACC record that had been held by Herman Moore for career yards per catch.

Bryant’s signing leaves only defensive end Stephon Tuitt and running back/wide receiver Dri Archer as the only draft picks not under contract. The two were second- and third-round picks, respectively, and each will likely sign a deal with the Steelers at some point this week.

The Steelers signed first-round pick Ryan Shazier to a four-year contract last Thursday. The four-year deal is worth just over $9.5 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and it included a signing bonus of just over $5.234 million.

The Steelers resumed organized team activities on Monday but they did not practice. Coaches and players went to a Dave & Busters in Pittsburgh for team bonding at the restaurant/arcade.

The Steelers are scheduled to practice Tuesday at Heinz Field and then wrap up OTAs with practices at their team headquarters Wednesday and Thursday.

The Steelers conclude offseason practices the following week when they hold a three-day minicamp that is mandatory.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger merely confirmed after the Pittsburgh Steelers' final practice this week what his actions on the field the last two weeks have shown.

"I feel younger than ever," the Steelers quarterback said Thursday.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoQB Ben Roethlisberger has high expectations for the Steelers' offense in 2014.
That much is evident by Roethlisberger doing some extra jogging in when he is not running the Steelers' offense during organized team activities. Or directing a two-minute drill that ends with him firing a touchdown pass to Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown on a slant pattern, something Roethlisberger did Thursday.

The only time Roethlisberger shows his age -- he turned 32 in March -- is when the 10th-year veteran is directing an offense that is his now more than at any point of his decorated career.

Roethlisberger may not be Peyton Manning with all of the hand gestures and barking of signals, but he is not far off.

And it is only June.

No one is more responsible for an offense that came into its own in the second half of last season integrating new players and inexperienced ones than Roethlisberger.

Gone are two of his top three wide receivers from last season -- and the 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns that Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery combined for in 2013. The backfield has also undergone change with the Steelers signing LeGarrette Blount and drafting speedy fast Dri Archer to complement Le'Veon Bell.

Roethlisberger is charged with pulling everything together, and he has clearly embraced that responsibility while not tempering his expectations for the offense in 2014.

"I think we have a lot of speed," said Roethlisberger, who played every snap last season while throwing for 4,261 yards, the second-highest single-season total of his career. "That's running the ball, that's throwing the ball, whatever. I want us to be fast and put a lot of points on the board."

The Steelers averaged just under 28 points in the final eight games last season. Roethlisberger is the key to them building on that and he has been nothing but a leader during OTAs. Roethlisberger has been front and center at the offseason practices, missing only one of them because of a family obligation.

"I love being out here. I love the game," Roethlisberger said. "I'm excited about this team and the direction we're headed."
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger missed the Steelers’ first organized team activities (OTAs) session of this week because of a family obligation. It is not known if Roethlisberger will attend the voluntary practice on Wednesday.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu continues to stay in California to train, and the eight-time Pro Bowler isn’t expected to attend offseason practices until minicamp in a couple of weeks, which is mandatory.

Not that Steelers fans should be worried about Polamalu’s absence, said his teammate of 11 seasons.

“He’s probably somewhere up in the mountains with the monks praying,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “When he comes back he’s going to be Jesus on the field.”

Also of note from the Steelers' fourth OTA session:
  • Taylor rejoined his teammates on Tuesday after spending last week training in Florida. Running back Dri Archer also took part in OTAs for the first time on Tuesday. Archer, the Steelers’ third-round pick last month, missed the first three voluntary practices because of an illness and his participation in an NFL Players Association event in Los Angeles, which was mandatory. “I took my playbook [to Los Angeles], still studied,” Archer said. “I’m a little behind.”
  • Tight end Matt Spaeth was a full participant in practice on Tuesday after working off to the side during OTAs last week. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds did some running on Tuesday after missing the final two practices last week because of a calf injury.
  • Tempers flared between linebacker Vic So’oto and rookie guard Will Simmons during practice and the two had to be separated. Coach Mike Tomlin tells his players not to fight during practice but the occasional skirmish is inevitable. “When you step on that field, you just feel the testosterone coming off the grass,” Taylor said. “We’re territorial people and you have to be that way on the field.”
PITTSBURGH -- Cornerback Ike Taylor and running back Dri Archer are among the players practicing today in the first of the Pittsburgh Steelers' organized team activities this week.

Taylor didn't take part in the three OTA sessions last week because he was training at Tom Shaw Performance Camp at Walt Disney World. Archer, the Steelers' third-round pick, missed the three voluntary practices because he was sick and then had to attend a mandatory NFL Players Association event in Los Angeles.

Tight end Matt Spaeth, who worked out on the side last week, is also practicing while outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been doing some running on the side. Worilds hasn't practiced since last Tuesday.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu isn't at OTAs, and the eight-time Pro Bowler isn't expected to practice with the Steelers until mandatory minicamp in a couple of weeks. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't practicing with the team Tuesday after taking part in all three OTA sessions last week.

The Steelers will hold two more voluntary practices this week and then wrap up OTAs next week with four practices.
PITTSBURGH -- Heath Miller is many things.

Revealing during an interview is not one of them.

But the Steelers tight end may have provided a hint on Brett Keisel’s future Thursday after Miller talked about what it’s like to be one of the longest-tenured players on the team.

Miller was reflecting on when he was one of the younger players on the Steelers and looked up to veterans such as linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith, who each played long after their 30th birthday.

Then he said, “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”

"Not here right now" implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.

I could be reading too much into Miller’s comment, but it dovetails with the sense it makes for the Steelers to bring back Keisel for another season.

First and foremost, there is no clear-cut starter at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward.

Cam Thomas has been working with the first team during OTAs, but the Steelers signed the former San Diego Charger to serve as a swing man who plays both defensive end and nose tackle.

Rookie Stephon Tuitt should figure into the mix at right defensive end but it may not be realistic to expect the second-round draft pick to develop quickly enough to start next season.

And who better to mentor Tuitt than Keisel, who also could play in some sort of rotation at right defensive end.

The timing for re-signing Keisel is right as the Steelers will receive more than $8 million in salary-cap room on Tuesday from releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in March.

Stay tuned on this front.

Also from the Steelers’ third OTA session:
  • Strong safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and running back Dri Archer were among those not in attendance on Thursday. Center Maurkice Pouncey did not practice but that probably resulted from the Steelers not wanting the Pro Bowler to push himself too much in his return from a torn ACL.
  • Antonio Brown said he is willing to return punts this season but it sounds like a duty the Pro Bowl wide receiver wouldn’t mind passing off to one of his teammates. The Steelers have had a handful of players fielding punts during OTAs, including Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant. When asked if that means he will be replaced in that role, Brown smiled. “They say that every year and I’m back there, so we’ll see,” the fourth-year veteran said. “I’ll let Coach [Mike Tomlin] decide.”
  • Miller, who is going into his 10th NFL season, said he has not put a timetable on how much longer he wants to continue playing. The Steelers signed Miller to a three-year contract in March. “I just want to play as long as my body will allow me to,” he said, “so we’ll see where that takes me.”
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our third look is at a position that has two a pair of intriguing additions.

Running back

Who is new: LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. A market that was anything but bullish for running backs allowed the Steelers to land the bruising Blount and at a bargain rate (two years for $3.85 million). They pretty much went to the other end of the running back spectrum when they drafted the small but speedy Archer in the third round. He stands just 5-8 and weighs 173 pounds but Archer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

Who is gone: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Dwyer signed with the Cardinals shortly after the start of free agency and Jones remains unsigned. Stephens-Howling tore his ACL in the 2013 season opener and the drafting of Archer ended any chances of the Steelers re-signing the veteran scatback.

Returning starter: Le'Veon Bell. The second-round pick -- and second running back taken in the 2013 draft -- showed why the Steelers were so excited about him after just a couple of weeks of training camp. Bell broke Franco Harris' record for most yards from scrimmage by a rookie (1,259) despite missing the first three games with a foot injury. He also showed he is a back for every down given his polish as a receiver and willingness to block blitzing linebackers. Bell improved as a runner as he adjusted to the speed at this level and he has the patience and power to develop into a perennial 1,000-yard rusher.

Most significant addition: Blount. The 6-foot, 250-pounder gives the Steelers a proven back who can ease Bell's workload. Blount is also capable of handling the bulk of the carries if Bell misses any time because of an injury. The only question with Blount is how many carries he will receive with the Steelers committed to Bell and Archer also in the mix.

Most significant loss: Dwyer. He played his role well after re-signing with the Steelers last season, backing up Bell and also contributing on special teams. The Steelers, however, were clearly looking for an upgrade behind Bell and they appear to have gotten one in Blount.

On outside looking in: Alvester Alexander. The undrafted free agent spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad, and he has his work cut out for him as far as convincing the Steelers to carry more than three running backs in 2014.

Hidden number: Of the 22 running backs who had more than 200 carries in 2013, only four had a lower yards per carry than the 3.5 yards Bell averaged on 244 carries.

Outlook: A position that had been a weakness through the first three games of 2013 has turned into a strength. Bell should only get better in his second season, and Archer offers a nice complement to him and Blount with his blazing speed. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers use Archer, whose versatility and pass-catching skills also allow him to play wide receiver.
PITTSBURGH -- Kent State coach Paul Haynes and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey shared a memory -- and a laugh -- recently when they recalled Dri Archer's 100-yard kickoff return for a Kent State touchdown last season in a game between the Mid-American Conference rivals.

"Dri went down his sideline and [Carey] said he was going so fast and he was just thinking, ‘We are so stupid for kicking to this guy,'" Haynes said. "They were the only team that kicked deep to us. Everybody else pooched."

That anecdote neatly distills why the Pittsburgh Steelers were enamored enough with Archer’s breathtaking speed and big-play ability to draft him in the third round -- yet also why taking him that high might be a luxury they couldn't afford after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Steelers hope Kent State's
Dri Archer can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Archer already had been compared to former great kick returners such as Mel Gray and Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil, and that was just in the Steelers' building.

But since NFL kickers have been able to boom the ball out of the end zone with regularity since kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line, how much of a weapon will Archer be if teams simply decide to play keep-away?

That is what teams did last season when Archer managed just two kickoff returns for 128 yards and a touchdown. Haynes said Kent State didn’t even bother practicing kickoff returns once it became apparent that opposing teams weren’t going to let Archer beat them in that phase of the game.

Despite his limited opportunities last season, the Steelers placed a premium on Archer as a return man during their pre-draft evaluation of him.

"In my mind, return guys are starters," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "His kick-return ability is unique. It really is special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, we see some value there."

Where exactly the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer fits into the offense remains to be seen. The Steelers feature Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they have an emerging running back (Le'Veon Bell) and a bruising back (newly signed LeGarrette Blount).

"This is a guy that is going to create some unique opportunities for us from a package standpoint in terms of him getting identified," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position, I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."

Such talk sounds great in May, but how will it translate in actual games when there are a limited number of snaps and Archer is not a primary option at running back or wide receiver?

"We are all going to work together to make sure this guy is in the right place," running backs coach James Saxon said. "The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands."

Indeed, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior, leading the country with 8.99 yards per carry. His rushing totals plummeted to 527 yards last season, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Kent State played him extensively at wide receiver to showcase his versatility to NFL teams.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made here is flexing him out," Haynes said. "We needed to keep him at running back just because we could have gotten him more touches. He has great vision, he has great feet, he has great burst -- all the things a good running back needs to be."

That includes strength and toughness.

It is easy to fixate on Archer’s size and speed and label him a gimmick player, but that evaluation doesn't fit. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine in February, but Archer also bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.

That's only seven shy of the combine bench-press total for defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, the 6-7, 352-pounder the Steelers drafted in the sixth round.

Haynes said Archer is strong and thick enough to absorb a pounding in the NFL, and Tomlin said, “He is not small. He is short.”

It remains to be seen how many touches Archer will get in an offense that returns all but one starter from last season.

Bell averaged 17.2 carries per game in 2013, and he is a legitimate feature back because of his pass-catching abilities. The Steelers also have to find carries for Blount, who as recently as January bulled his way to 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns while leading the Patriots to a playoff victory.

That leaves Archer as a situational player, albeit a unique one, and the Steelers didn’t get favorable results the last time they drafted a ridiculously fast player with plans to use his speed to exploit mismatches.

Chris Rainey, even before he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh because of off-field incidents, didn’t make much of an impact on the offense. In 2012, his only season with the Steelers, the former Florida speedster rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries and caught 14 passes for a mere 60 yards.

There might turn out to be no comparison between Archer and Rainey aside from sheer speed. And one thing Archer won’t have a problem with, Haynes said, is representing the Steelers -- on the field and away from it.

"You think of toughness, you think hard-nose, you think of discipline," Haynes said of the Steelers. "That’s why I think Dri is going to fit in so well there, because a lot of those things are how I would describe him. Besides the football, he’s going to be a great ambassador for that program.

"You don’t have to worry about him off the field. He’s going to work, he’ll study the game, he’ll surround himself with the great pros that are already there and teach him how to be a great pro himself."
PITTSBURGH – There is a lot to like about a Steelers draft in which they added size and speed. There are also some things that can be questioned, including the lack of attention they paid to a certain position.

Here are three things I liked about the Steelers' draft:
  • It’s hard not to get excited about the first two picks. Yes, the Steelers didn’t address one of their bigger needs by taking a cornerback, but they added size and speed to a defense that fell last season from its usual lofty perch. Ryan Shazier makes inside linebacker a strength and his sheer speed will allow Dick LeBeau to get creative in how he uses the Steelers’ first-round pick. Stephon Tuitt, like Shazier, has the chance to start right away and he fills a gaping hole at defensive end. Tuitt and Cameron Heyward could form quite an inside pass-rush tandem in the Steelers’ nickel defense.
  • The Steelers let the draft come to them at wide receiver and they were able to get a really good prospect in the fourth round. The Steelers strongly considered taking Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the third round and were still able to get him after using their third pick on Kent State running back Dri Archer. Bryant has excellent size and speed, and he averaged over 20 yards per catch at Clemson despite getting overshadowed by first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins (2013) and Sammy Watkins. The Steelers, who have made it clear to Bryant that they expect his work ethic to be up to their standards, have given quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an enticing red-zone target.
  • The Steelers were able to add an intriguing prospect and not just a body to their deep offensive line. And it didn’t cost them much to do it. They drafted Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson with the second of their two fifth-round picks, and the 6-5, 297-pounder started 51 career games in college football’s preeminent conference. Johnson is athletic and versatile and he could fill left tackle Kelvin Beachum’s former role as a super sub who can play all five positions.

Two things I question:
  • I’m still a little puzzled that the Steelers took a running back in the third round. I understand that they are enamored with Archer’s speed and game-breaking ability. But how many touches will he get in an offense that already has Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount to shoulder the load at running back? And as much as the Steelers like Archer’s potential as a kickoff and punt returner he didn’t do much of either his final season at Kent State. And it’s a lot easier to keep the ball away from dangerous kickoff returners since kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line.
  • Adding to questions about the Archer pick is the fact that a run on cornerback took place in the fourth round. Nine cornerbacks were taken in the fourth round and five before the Steelers picked Bryant. Steelers fans would have felt a whole lot better about the draft had Pittsburgh gone linebacker, defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver. As it turns out the Steelers only picked one cornerback, and they didn’t take Shaquille Richardson until the fifth round. Maybe the Steelers really are confident that free-agent signee Brice McCain can bounce back after struggling last season for the Texans and that Antwon Blake is ready to contribute more than just on special teams. Time will tell on that – and whether the Steelers erred by not doing more to address cornerback in the draft.
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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.”