AFC North: Joey Porter

PITTSBURGH -- Rookie Ryan Shazier created quite the buzz in training camp and the preseason but it is another young linebacker on whom the Steelers used a first-round pick who is most critical to the defense making significant improvement in 2014.

The question, with the regular-season opener less than a week away, is how much of a jump will outside linebacker Jarvis Jones make in his second season?

“I’m not thinking too much but I’m not where I want to be,” the Steelers’ 2013 first-round pick said. “I’ve just got to continue to work and not overthink things and when I’m out there just be more comfortable and be myself so that will allow me to make plays.”

Jones didn’t make enough of them last season when the former Georgia All-American registered just one sack despite starting eight games and playing 612 snaps.

The Steelers' starting right outside linebacker has to make significant improvement this season or it could have a domino effect on a defense that gave up too many big plays last season and recorded just 34 sacks, the Steelers’ lowest total since 1990.

If Jones doesn’t put consistent pressure on the quarterback, it will allow teams to focus on slowing down left outside linebacker Jason Worilds. And if Worilds is consistently double-teamed or offenses use a running back to chip or block the fifth-year veteran and the pass rush suffers as a whole, it will only further expose the Steelers’ cornerbacks.

Jones is in the year where Mike Tomlin expects players to make their most improvement, and the eighth-year coach said last week he is pleased with where Jones is despite an unsettling third preseason game in Philadelphia.

“Jarvis is a type of young guy that I expect him to continually be on the rise,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes you think as you push forward toward opening day that you can take the snapshot of the individual and the group and that’s the finished product and really that’s far from the case. I expect him (and) I expect us to continually get better even as we push into this season.

“The reality is, ultimately if we’re going to be the type of team that we need to be and want to be and (the) individuals that we need to be and want to be, we’re going to be continually in growth and develop(ment) particularly from a young guys standpoint.”

Jones is a young guy but the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder has had an entire offseason to get stronger and hone his pass-rushing moves. He is working with former Steelers pass-rushing great Joey Porter and he has had more than a year to learn defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s system.

In other words, there are no built-in excuses as there were last year when Jones was trying to find his way as a wide-eyed rookie.

“I think I’m doing a good job as far as getting there but I’m not going to make predictions,” Jones said. “I feel good about myself. I’m just going to continue to work.”
James HarrisonMark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT James Harrison had one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.

PITTSBURGH -- The closest I ever came to experiencing what an NFL quarterback faced when playing against James Harrison came in October 2008.

A couple of days earlier, the Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but Harrison had been furious after the 26-21 win -- and rightfully so since he had been held more times than a newborn baby.

As the visiting locker room at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium started to empty, Harrison groused to longtime Steelers beat reporter Mark Kaboly and me during an interview that maybe the officials had money on the game.

We wrote it. Roger Goodell read it. And Harrison received an envelope from Park Avenue.

It included a $25,000 fine and a letter explaining that he would be making a generous donation to one of the charities that the NFL supports because of something I had written.

Yeah, yikes.

I had the good fortune the first time Harrison did a group interview after getting fined to be on the other end of the Steelers' locker room since one of my colleagues was in on the scrum.

I felt really lucky when I was later informed that Harrison had said, “Which one of you m-----f------ is Scott Brown? You owe me $25,000.”

That was the last I heard of that debt, though I did briefly consider walking up to Harrison one day and handing him $25,000 in Monopoly money. I wisely figured that joke might not play well for several reasons.

James Harrison was ornery. James Harrison was intimidating. And James Harrison was unpredictable.

Let me add this in the wake of Harrison announcing his retirement Saturday morning via social media: James Harrison was one of the greatest success stories in the fabled history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let that sink in a little bit.

And then consider that Harrison was cut three times by the Steelers before finally sticking with the team in 2004.

He bided his time on special teams for three seasons before the Steelers unleashed a raging bull on the rest of the NFL.

Harrison both terrorized and tormented quarterbacks after taking over at right outside linebacker for perennial Pro Bowler Joey Porter, earning the nickname "Deebo" from his teammates after the terrifying neighborhood bully in the movie "Friday."

Harrison piled up 54 sacks from 2007-11, and his 64 career quarterback takedowns for the Steelers rank fourth in team history, two behind a guy named Joe Greene. Harrison became a perennial Pro Bowler, and the former undrafted free agent won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2008 after registering 16 sacks.

Harrison turned in one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history at the end of that season when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown.

The Steelers don’t win a sixth Super Bowl title if Harrison doesn’t weave his way down the field, pinball off Arizona Cardinals tacklers and then collapse in the end zone with no time left in the first half.

We may never see a play like that again.

If it was an original, so was Harrison.

He played with an edge. He also played on the edge, something that turned Harrison into the unwitting face of Goodell’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits.

His clashes with Goodell -- Harrison blasted the commissioner in a 2011 Men’s Journal story for which he later apologized -- may complicate his legacy a bit when it comes to the NFL.

That is not the case with the Steelers, which is why so many fans were clamoring for the team to re-sign Harrison when he made it clear he wanted to return to Pittsburgh for one more season.

It doesn’t look like he will get that second act with the Steelers.

But what a first act it was for the inimitable James Harrison.
LATROBE, Pa. – Joey Porter has never been averse to crashing something – whether it is a pocket designed to protect a quarterback or the 2005 NFL playoffs, when he helped carry the sixth-seeded Steelers to an improbable Super Bowl title.

But the former Steelers outside linebacker has taken a decidedly different, less brash approach to the career he is now pursuing. And that is why he passed on the question earlier this week asking how Steelers outside linebackers Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones have looked in training camp.

[+] EnlargeJoey Porter
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicIt might be a little bit different, but Joey Porter still has the intensity as a coach that he did as a star linebacker in Pittsburgh.
“I don’t feel comfortable making those assessments because I think my job is so low on the totem pole to be saying what I think about a guy when I have legends like Dick LeBeaus and Keith Butlers and John Mitchells on the staff, that’s their job,” said Porter, who joined coach Mike Tomlin’s staff last February as a defensive assistant.

That answer -- or non answer -- is one major difference between Joey Porter the player and Joey Porter the coach. Porter, however, has not fundamentally changed as anyone who has watched practice at St. Vincent College can attest. The volume is still turned up.

Way up.

It doesn't matter whether he is instructing one of the Steelers' younger players or about to erupt after seeing a player try a spin move on a running back in the backs on 'backers drill. In Porter’s world linebackers run over running backs on the way to the quarterback, not try to spin around them.

Porter, who retired after the 2011 season, still looks like he could don the pads and show his players how it is done.

But looks, Porter said with a laugh, can be deceiving.

“Every morning I wake up and think like I’ve got it until I go out there and try and do something and realize that I don’t got it,” said Porter, who is fifth on the Steelers’ all-time sacks list with 60. “But the kids are going to keep me young regardless. That’s what I love about it. We fool ourselves as coaches. Every day we wake up like, ‘Dang, I think I’ve got it today.’ I got out there and try and lift with them and try to throw my cleats on and then I’m quickly reminded that my days are over.”

His playing days, yes.

But Porter is just getting started in his coaching career, and he is serious about it. It only takes about a 15-minute window of practice to see that Porter has the same passion for coaching that defined him as a player.

And former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote told last month that Porter has such a capacity to lead that he could eventually be an NFL head coach one day.

But Porter said he is a long way from thinking about his career path as he absorbs the nuances of his new profession from those who coached him during an eight-year career playing with the Steelers.

“I’m a coach at my position and not on a fast track of looking for the next opportunity,” Porter said. “I love my opportunity that I have here, and I’m going to look at it like that. I’m not thinking, ‘I’ve got a plan, I want to be here in five years.’ I want to be here next year so hopefully I do enough to keep that position.”

Porter’s new position hasn't been the only adjustment for him.

That explains why cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu, who started with Porter on the 2005 team that won the Super Bowl, could not resist kidding him last Saturday night when he wore black slacks and a golf shirt for the Steelers’ preseason opener.

Joey Porter dressed in civilian clothes on a Steelers sideline. Who knew?

‘“We were just saying beforehand, ‘We played with you. Now you’re in a whole different atmosphere being a coach. Hopefully your pants ain’t too tight,’ ” Taylor said. “They weren’t too tight, so it’s all good.”

Yep, Joey Porter and the Steelers are a great fit.

LATROBE, Pa. -- LeGarrette Blount did not get off to the best start at training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He struggled during early backs-on-'backers drills and nearly started a brawl when he jumped on linebacker Vince Williams after Williams and running back Le'Veon Bell had wrestled to the ground in the one-on-one blocking drill.

The scene that took place at Memorial Stadium showed that Blount, whose college career ended ignominiously after he punched a player following an Oregon loss, is still prone to letting his emotions get the better of him.

But if the Steelers are worried about that becoming an issue they are doing a good job of hiding it.

"Easy for me to work with," running backs coach James Saxon said of Blount. "Great for the (running backs) room and the guy’s an outstanding runner. Very prideful guy. Comes to work every single day. Wants to do it right."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin agreed.

"He works hard, he’s a competitor, he’s a football lover," Tomlin said. "Good attributes. I think he’s doing great."

The Steelers signed Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract in March and that seemed like a bargain considering how he had trampled the Indianapolis Colts' defense for New England in a playoff win two months earlier.

And that he had emerged as the Patriots’ best running back by the end of the 2013 season.

Blount not commanding more money on the open market might have been a commentary on the running back position, and how it has become devalued with the NFL increasingly becoming a pass-first league.

It might also have served as a reminder that Blount has not completely outrun his past -- and the punch that threatened to define his football career.

Blount went undrafted in 2010 but he rushed for more than a 1,000 yards as a rookie that season in Tampa Bay. The 6-0, 250-pounder enters his fifth NFL season with a gaudy 4.7 yards per carry average.

Blount, now with his fourth NFL team, will back up Bell. The two have become fast friends, and the Steelers have to hope that friendship won’t get tested when carries have to be divvied up among Bell, Blount and rookie speedster Dri Archer.

Saxon does not consider that loss of emotional control during a drill -- Blount also nearly squared off with defensive assistant Joey Porter after he was pulled off Williams -- an accurate snapshot of who Blount is.

"Out there these guys are working real hard, competing and sometimes your emotions get the best of you," Saxon said. "He’s got to be aware of when and how far he can go. He’s smart enough to do that. He’s very, very good for this football team."

Steelers Camp Report: Day 6

August, 1, 2014
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • Friday night under the lights almost turned into Friday night at the fights. Spirited competition during the backs-on-'backers drill spilled over when Vince Williams and Le'Veon Bell wrestled each other to the turf at Memorial Stadium. Running back LeGarrette Blount, who wasn’t even practicing, dived at Williams in an attempt to help Bell, and players from both sides of the ball jumped into the fray. Order was quickly restored, but not before Blount and defensive assistant Joey Porter jawed at each other as Porter tried to get Blount away from the scrum. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who eventually led Blount away from the end zone where the drill had taken place, later said, “it’s an emotional game. They do lose that element of it sometimes. All of it is part of team development even if it is a little negative. They do it in a brotherly way. They understand what we’re going in the grand scheme of things.”
  • Williams said there aren’t any hard feelings between him and Bell even though their tussle nearly set off a brawl. "We’re just two fierce competitors going at it. It’s all love man.” Williams didn’t appear to be stewing over the incident on the bus ride back to St. Vincent College. He was more preoccupied with locating his cell phone, which outside linebacker Jason Worilds found for him as the team buses were making their way back to campus.
  • Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones did not practice because of an groin injury that Tomlin said is not serious. Wide receiver Justin Brown was also out after breaking his nose Thursday in practice. Rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson left practice early because of groin tightness, according to Tomlin. Rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt remains out with a groin injury.
  • An estimated crowd of more than 7,000 people packed into Memorial Stadium and were treated to one of the more intense practices of camp. Special-teams coordinator Danny Smith experienced the physicality of the drills when he fell to the ground hard after Antonio Brown was tackled out of bounds following a short reception. Smith popped right back up after getting taken out near the benches.
  • The Steelers waived running back Alvester Alexander and signed running back Jawan Jamison. Alexander, who spent all of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, arrived at camp last Friday with a groin injury, and the Steelers placed him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. That injury doomed him as the Steelers brought in Jamison, who was taken in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins but did not make the team. Jamison made a favorable first impression as Tomlin praised him several times during the backs-on-'backers drill.
  • The Steelers return to their regular schedule today following their first night practice of camp. They will practice from 2:55 to 5:30 p.m. ET at St. Vincent College. Admission is free.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stuck with the Twitter handle SacManJones_29 despite notching just one quarterback takedown during a trying rookie season.

That he still embraces the alias is as close as Jones will come to predicting a breakout season for himself, something the Steelers badly need from their 2013 first-round draft pick.

“I’m going to do it my way,” Jones said. “Just keep quiet and work hard and produce on the field. I’ve got to live up to my name.”

It is critical that Jones do that since no player’s development on a defense that has gotten profoundly younger is more critical than his.

The Steelers’ defense has to become more opportunistic after forcing just 20 turnovers last season. Jones and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds providing a consistent pass rush would go a long way toward the Steelers taking the ball away more.

It would also help a secondary that has questions at cornerback.

Jones is poised to make a big jump after improving his strength the offseason and significantly raising his comfort level with the defense.

In addition, new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who played right outside linebacker in seven seasons with the Steelers and recorded 60 sacks, is mentoring Jones. And Jones spent the offseason working on his pass-rushing technique with Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston.

The two former Georgia teammates are close friends and trained together in Atlanta. Houston has 21 combined sacks in the last seasons -- he had 11 in 11 games in 2013 -- and Jones wants to replicate the success Houston has had since becoming a full-time starter in his second NFL season.

“I’ve been watching a lot of film of him and just watching his hand placement, his steps,” Jones said. “I feel really good about myself and where I’m at right now.”

Jones admittedly didn’t feel good about himself last season while struggling as learned a complex defense on the job and running into left tackles who were bigger and stronger than the ones he had regularly beaten in college.

The 6-2, 245-pounder recorded just one sack after making 28 of them in the two seasons he played for Georgia, and Jones admittedly got down on himself.

“It hurt because I wasn’t productive and I’m not used to being in that position,” Jones said. “Ever since I started playing football I’ve always been successful. It was humbling and it just makes you work harder.”

The Steelers need that work to produce signifcant returns this season.

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers will only go far as young players such as Jones take them, and SacMan_29 embraces that challenge.

“We understand that we’re a young group so we’ve really got to take the initiative of being physical, taking advantage of us being together,” Jones said of a defense that has eight projected starters who are 27 years old or younger. “We’re a lot younger than they’re used to seeing. We’ve got to gain our respect from everybody, even our teammates.”

Steelers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
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 -- The Pittsburgh Steelers report to training camp in three days and it looks like coach Mike Tomlin has pre-ordered heat and humidity, two of his favorite ingredients for the practices that will take place at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Here is a different kind of primer for camp, and it is the first of two posts recapping the Steelers' offseason in the words of the coaches and the players.

Here is what the players said during the offseason practices.

“We could put Usain Bolt and the whole track team out there but that doesn't make us a good football team. So, we'll see how everything works out.” – strong safety Troy Polamalu on what an infusion of speed will mean for the defense

“I’m excited about this team and the direction we’re headed. I think that we have a lot of speed. That’s running the ball, that’s throwing the ball, whatever. I want us to be fast and to put a lot of points on the board. I feel younger than ever." – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on expectations for the offense after the Steelers averaged just under 28 points in their final eight games last season

“You see guys finishing to the end zone, the whole defense running to the ball, everyone coaching each other. I think we’re just a hungry young group that’s aspiring to win games. When you’ve got a young motivated group that everyone bought into what we’re trying to do it just speaks highly when you see it on the practice field.” – Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown on the urgency the Steelers showed during offseason practices

“I’m in his head every day, always asking questions, always trying to figure out the best way to do it. He’s always on my butt about just grinding. Not saying that I don’t push myself, but there’s always a next level and that’s what he’s brought to our whole unit.” – outside linebacker Jarvis Jones on new defensive assistant Joey Porter

“I expect to be better than last year for sure. That’s better because I should be able to put more preparation in, should be able to work like I’m used to working. Last year was about trying to find a new normal for myself and I’m a creature of habit so that wasn’t easy for me.” – tight end Heath Miller on participating in offseason practices after missing them the previous year while recovering from a torn ACL

“You’ve got a few guys and there time is right now. Cortez Allen is one of those guys. Will Gay is still one of those guys regardless of what people don’t want to say about him. The man’s real solid.I think last year was the best year of his career. And Cortez Allen toward the end was breaking out to what we all thought he could be -- a ball hawk.” – veteran Ike Taylor on the Steelers’ cornerbacks

“It’s nothing right now and I say that in the sense that that’s been talked about the last few years. The talent is there but if we come out here and [falter] we’ll be saying the same thing next year. You can’t just say because we have the high-round talent or guys that have experience that it’s supposed to be special. We’ve got to make it that way.” – left guard Ramon Foster on the whether offensive line’s strong finish in 2013 will translate into a big season for the unit this year

“He’s one of my better friends on the team now. It’s crazy the relationship I built with him over the last couple of months. He’s a lot like I am, outgoing, more jokes. Dri is the same way. It’s crazy how we all mesh together and get along.” – starting running back Le'Veon Bell on new backfield additions LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer

“Think about it. You’ve got a Hall of Famer in waiting and I’m coming in to play right after him. That’s pressure. Everybody knows what Casey was. He’s on a top five defense his whole career. I’ve seen the man play. There’s nothing else like him. I’m far from Casey. I’m never going to try to be Casey. The only thing I can do is work every day, do my best and just be the best Steve that I can be.” – nose tackle Steve McLendon on replacing five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton last season

“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 but this defense here is very talented. Sometimes you’re overlooked but that’s just another chip to put on my shoulder and play football.” – new free safety Mike Mitchell on his goal for this season

“He’s like a sponge right now. The coaches tell him, ‘Don’t say much at all. Just try and soak everything up right now.’ It’s going to be tough on him but he’s the type of athletic he can do it. He’s willing and able to do whatever it takes.” – inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons on first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier

“I feel like I was overlooked by a lot of teams. A lot of guys that went ahead of me aren’t even on teams right now so that gives me a chip on my shoulder every day. 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.” – cornerback Antwon Blake on what drives him

“I’ve gotten a chance to see who wore this number before me and the person who wore the number before me was a great player for the Steelers. With that comes a great opportunity to become the best and that’s somebody I want to become as great as or greater than. I love pressure. I thrive off that.” – rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt on wearing No. 91, Aaron Smith’s old number

“Ben is strong-armed with a sense of boldness. He’s going to throw some balls that maybe some other guys wouldn’t, even guys with strong arms. I love that as a receiver.” – new wide receiver Lance Moore on playing with Roethlisberger

“He’s like Paul Bunyan. He’s huge. He’s thick but he’s definitely agile. I think we can get a lot out of him. His potential is out of the roof. It’s about getting him to the next level.” – defensive end Cameron Heyward on rookie defensive tackle Dan McCullers

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

Steelers' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
The key for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the next three years is developing young players such as outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, safety Shamarko Thomas, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

They will be the cornerstones of a defense that has been almost completely overhauled over the past couple of years -- and may not have strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor beyond the 2014 season.

Shazier, the Steelers' first-round pick this year, has the look of a future Pro Bowler, and he did well during the offseason practices. The key for the former Ohio State star is continuing that in training camp when the pads go on and the hitting starts.

Jones, the team's first-round pick in 2013, is a crucial part of the Steelers' future given how vital it is that their outside linebackers generate a consistent pass rush. Jones struggled while learning the Steelers' defense on the job last season and recorded just one sack despite starting eight games.

He will be better this season, especially with former Steelers great Joey Porter mentoring him, but will Jones establish himself as a premier pass-rusher over the next couple of seasons?

The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Tuitt already has an NFL body, and the 2014 second-round pick will make a nice pairing with defensive end Cameron Heyward if he realizes the potential that has the Steelers so excited about him.

The hard-hitting Thomas is the likely successor to Polamalu, and the Steelers have high hopes for the 2013 fourth-round pick.

Pittsburgh also needs to develop some cornerbacks. The Steelers would love nothing more than if rookie Shaquille Richardson, a fifth-round pick, becomes their latest midround find at the position.

Cornerback may also be the Steelers' top priority in the 2015 NFL draft after many thought they would use a high pick on one this year.
PITTSBURGH -- The player who dressed next to Joey Porter in the Steelers’ locker room and is still good friends with him doesn’t just predict success for Porter in coaching.

Larry Foote sees Porter going all the way to the top if he chooses to make a career out of coaching.

“I think he’s going to be a head coach in this league one day,” Foote told earlier this week. “I think he has that ‘it’ factor to be a head coach if he stays the course. He has an enthusiasm and excitement that you can’t teach, you can’t develop, you’ve just got to be born with it and I’m excited. Hopefully he grows from the coaching side, X's and O's, organization and stuff like that. But shoot, he’s on the fast track because he can lead men, he can get men to run through a wall.”

Porter has returned to Pittsburgh to do that and learn his new trade as a Steelers defensive assistant. Porter, who joined coach Mike Tomlin’s staff in February, has already shown the same kind of enthusiasm for coaching as he did for playing.

“He brings it every day like he’s a player and guys respect that," said Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has become one of Porter's proteges. "When the linebackers hit the field you can see the energy and positivity and that’s what we need and that’s how we’re going to continue to get better.”

That comes as no surprise to Foote, who was teammates with Porter from 2002-06.

Foote signed with Arizona in March, and he has already heard plenty about Porter there. He said Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald told him that Porter is the best leader he has ever seen.

Porter spent two seasons with the Cardinals before retiring in 2012.

Fitzgerald’s praise only reaffirmed to Foote that Porter’s contributions in Pittsburgh transcend his 60 sacks in seven seasons, which rank fifth on the organization’s all-time list.

“Through my time in Pittsburgh there was no better leader,” said Foote, who played for the Steelers from 2002-08 and 2010-13. “He wasn’t on that second Super Bowl team [in 2008] but his imprint was still on that team and it still lives in that locker room a little bit.

“He is selfless, putting his team first and that just sets the tone for the team and the way he played week in and week out. He was an established Pro Bowl guy and he was hungry every week. He loved the game.”

Porter has transferred that love to coaching, and his enthusiasm as well as his expertise at playing outside linebacker and rushing the passer should only help players like Jones and Jason Worilds.

“That’s the thing about Joey, he has one speed,” Foote said. “The game is changing. You need coaches coming in with that energy. A lot of players can feed off the coaches’ energy and what a perfect guy to do it.”
PITTSBURGH -- The number that Arthur Moats wore in Buffalo meant enough to him that it became a part of his Twitter handle.

But it also belonged to former Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster.

When it came to picking a number after he signed with the Steelers, Moats wanted to respect Webster by staying away from No. 52 but also embrace the expectations that come with another number.

He did both by settling on No. 55, something Moats did after taking to Joey Porter, who is the most accomplished player in Steelers' history to wear that number.

"He said, 'Can't just anybody wear the number,' " Moats said with a laugh. "He's cool with it. Us having that conversation and being able to talk about it, I definitely felt comfortable with it."

The Steelers hope Moats becomes comfortable with more than just the number he will wear in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers signed Moats to a one-year, $795,000 contract in March to provide depth at outside linebacker, and it only took a week of organized team activities to show how thin they are at the position.

Starting left outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been sidelined since hurting his calf in the first voluntary practice of the offseason. Taking his place on the first-team defense has been Moats, who is still learning a new defense. He started 12 games at inside linebacker last season for the Bills.

That Moats has been running with the first-string defense is more a commentary on the Steelers' depth at outside linebacker than it is his skills. And Moats played outside linebacker in high school and college before playing both inside and outside for the Bills, so there is a level of comfort for him there.

Moats' ability to play inside and outside is something the Steelers coveted when they pursued the fourth-year veteran after he became an unrestricted free agent.

"That was some of the things that me and [coach Mike] Tomlin talked about through the free-agency process, me having that versatility, being able to play both sides," said Moats, a sixth-round pick by the Bills in 2010. "His thing was he wanted me to come in and at least learn outside first and see what I could do there, especially since that's where my roots are since high school, college and the beginning of my career."

Moats isn't moving from outside linebacker anytime soon.

The Steelers appear to have plenty of depth inside with the addition of first-round pick Ryan Shazier and Sean Spence giving every indication so far that he could help the defense this season.

Meanwhile, there isn't a lot of depth at outside linebacker, a position the Steelers didn't address in the draft.

Moats and Chris Carter, who is still looking for his first career sack, are the most experienced players behind Worilds and starting right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Moats will gladly stay put, especially since the position he is playing should give him plenty of opportunities to work with Porter.

Porter, who joined the Steelers as a defensive assistant in February, ranks fifth on Pittsburgh's all-time sacks list with 60. But it wasn't just the sheer number of sacks Porter piled up that captivated youngsters like Moats when they were growing up.

"He kicked that dirt up on you," Moats, 26, said with a laugh. "A couple of times I was watching him on TV and he was so fired up about to fight people. That's what we need. I feel like getting that type of mindset definitely helps us out."
PITTSBURGH -- Jarvis Jones has yet to see the side of Joey Porter that helped make the latter a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and a leader in the Steelers' locker room.

"The crazy cussing and stuff like that he hasn't done that yet but you can tell his intensity, his passion for the game," Jones said. "He's more hands on than just talking to us and trying to show us how to do it."

Porter, who joined Mike Tomlin's staff as a defensive assistant in February, figures to be more hands on with Jones than any other player.

Jones plays right outside linebacker, the position where Porter racked up 60 1/2 sacks in eight seasons in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers need the 2013 first-round draft pick to make significant improvement in his second NFL season.

Porter's tutelage -- as well as having spent a full year immersed in the Steelers' defense -- should help Jones after a rookie season in which he started eight games but managed just one sack.

One thing Jones didn't do in preparation for his second season is get bigger.

"I'm pretty much the same, 245 (pounds)," the 6-2 Jones said following the Steelers' first full-squad offseason practice. "That's where (the coaches) want me to play at. I really don't want to get much bigger. My whole thing is about getting stronger and being able to play with leverage and the right technique so that's what I've been focusing on."

Jones trained in Atlanta for three months with former Georgia teammate and current Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston. He said he has gotten stronger while staying at a weight that won't compromise his speed.

What will make Jones play faster than anything is his familiarity with the Steelers' defense after struggling to learn it on the job in 2013.

"It's not night and day," Jones said of the difference between last year and this year as far as knowing the defense, "but it's a whole lot better actually knowing what's going on. I'm not out there second-guessing myself. I can line myself up as far as coming out and looking at the formation."

The Steelers hope that having those basics down and Porter teaching him the finer points of playing outside linebacker will translate into a breakout season for Jones, the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft.

"It's a blessing to have somebody here mentoring us that actually played here and played the same position," Jones said. "He's got the mindset of a baller. He knows what it takes to be great. He pushes me every day."

Does that mean Jones will play with the kind of fire and swagger that defined Porter's career?

"I'm more quiet," Jones said with a smile, "but he'll probably rub off on me though."

The Steelers are counting on it.
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison created quite a buzz among Steelers fans with what he said Monday night on NFL Network.

Harrison and Ike Taylor were taking part in the network’s "dynasty week" and Taylor blurted out “Pittsburgh” when Harrison was asked where he wants to play next season.

Harrison’s response: “Everybody knows that.”

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Greg Bartram/USA Today SportsJames Harrison could provide some veteran depth for the Pittsburgh defense.
It is an interesting thought to say the least.

And here is how it could work: The Steelers wait until after June 1 to re-sign Harrison, who was released last week by the Bengals, when they will receive $8.58 million in cap savings from the release of LaMarr Woodley.

There wouldn’t be any concerns about Harrison keeping himself in shape until then – his work ethic is off the charts – or having to learn a new system.

Unlike last year when the two sides couldn’t reach common ground on the amount of a pay cut prior to Harrison’s release, the Steelers could bring him back on much friendlier financial terms.

Harrison, according to ESPN Stats & Information, made a base salary of $1.4 million last season and received a little more than $380,000 in bonuses. His two-year deal with the Bengals also included a $1.2 million signing bonus.

Harrison played 15 games for the Bengals in 2013 but managed just two sacks and averaged just over 24 snaps per contest. The 10th-year veteran wasn’t a good fit in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense and age may have encroached on his game as well.

Harrison turns 36 in May, and he has to know that he would have to accept a deal that is amenable to the Steelers as well as a limited role to return to Pittsburgh and finish his career here.

If he is willing to do that, the Steelers should at least consider bringing back the player who is fourth on their all-time sacks list (64).

Harrison could join new defensive assistant coach Joey Porter in helping with Jarvis Jones’ development. He could also provide depth at outside linebacker, another position where the Steelers have little of it.

Chris Carter is the only other outside linebacker on the roster after Jones and Jason Worilds, and he hasn’t shown that he can be much more than a special-teams player. The Steelers are likely to draft an outside linebacker at some point but they can’t depend on that player helping right away.

Look how much Jones struggled to learn the Steelers’ defense as a rookie while also adjusting to the speed and competition level in the NFL, and he was the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft.

The Steelers don’t have a history of bringing back players with whom they have parted ways but they have made exceptions.

Could Harrison fall into that category?

Stay tuned.