AFC North: Mike Tomlin

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lance Moore practiced again Thursday and all but said afterward that he will play Sunday night at Carolina.

Moore missed the Steelers' first two games because of a groin injury, but he has not been limited in any of the three practices this week. Moore said the only thing he is waiting for is the go-ahead from coach Mike Tomlin to suit up for his first regular-season game with the Steelers.

"The mental part of the injury I think is gone now," said Moore, the Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver. "Every morning I wake up and feel normal again. I don’t have any pain or soreness. I’m definitely looking forward to getting out there on Sunday."

Ramon Foster is also looking forward to playing against the 2-0 Panthers.

The Steelers' left guard did not practice today because of an ankle injury and was limited in drills on Wednesday. Foster said he turned his ankle in practice this week, but said he will practice on Friday.

"I’m walking fine," Foster said. "Coach T said he won’t let me set myself up for failure, so we’re rehabbing and getting back out there."

Rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) was limited in practice for the second consecutive day, and he will probably have to be able to make it through a full practice on Friday to play against the Panthers.

Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams (thigh) and Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and offensive tackle Garry Williams (thigh) have yet to practice this week.

Big Ben stands behind Marcus Gilbert

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH -- A day after coach Mike Tomlin said Marcus Gilbert isn’t in danger of losing his starting job, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave the Pittsburgh Steelers' right tackle a vote of confidence.

“I know the person (Gilbert) is and the competitor he is,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “He’s going to come out and be ready to play.”

Gilbert would probably like a do-over to the start of the season as much any anybody in the Steelers' locker room.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder has given up four of the five sacks allowed by the Steelers, including a pair to Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil in a 26-6 loss at Baltimore.

Dumervil’s second sack last Thursday was the basketball equivalent of dunking ferociously on someone. He bull-rushed Gilbert and dropped the fourth-year veteran on his back, taking down Roethlisberger in the process.

The play was such an unmasking that Gilbert’s teammates didn’t even subject him to some good-natured ribbing while watching film of it this week.

“I think it was more humbling to Marcus,” Roethlisberger said.

Gilbert and the rest of the Steelers' offensive line will have to play better Sunday night at Carolina against a defensive front that regularly humbles the opposition.

The Panthers have seven sacks and 20 quarterback hurries through the first two weeks of the season, and Roethlisberger said Carolina’s defense is so stout because its players consistently win one-on-one matchups.

That will challenge the Steelers' offensive line as much as playing a second consecutive night game on the road.

“There’s no panic right now,” Gilbert said. “It seems like everybody is in panic mode and worrying, but we just have to grow together and play team ball and things will work out.”

The first two weeks of the season have reinforced a cruel reality to Gilbert.

As well as the former second-round pick may have played in the first two games, he is defined by the sacks he allowed because of the Steelers' high profile -- and the fact that Gilbert signed a five-year, $26.2 million contract last month.

“If you watch the film (from the Ravens loss) we did a lot of great stuff,” Gilbert said, “but those two (sacks) you can’t just give up and I can’t let that happen. It’s something that can be fixed. There’s no panic over here. I’m very excited for what’s ahead of me Sunday night.”

Steelers need to shore up run defense

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel, who has played on defenses that simply didn’t allow teams to run the ball, delivered a message earlier this week.

“Come in here and make it important,” the veteran defensive end said. “Do the little extra things that you might not have had to do up to this point because you’ve been a great college player. In the pros it’s different. You’ve got to prepare every week differently and you can’t relax or you’ll get gashed.”

The Steelers’ defense has been gashed repeatedly in the running game, something that would have been unheard of in the prime of Keisel’s career.

The Steelers yielded a team-record 62.8 rushing yards per game in 2010, and they allowed just one 100-yard rusher in 50 games during a span that stretched from 2007-10.

The run defense sprung leaks in 2013 when the Steelers yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game. And the defense is again searching for answers after giving up 170 rushing yards per game through the first two weeks of this season.

Only three other teams have been worse than the Steelers when it comes to stopping the run.

“We’ve talked and things were said and we just need to get on the same page,” Keisel said. “I like where we’re going.”

The Steelers insist the problems that have allowed the likes of Terrance West, Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett to run on them can be fixed.

But they have to start tackling better and staying in their assigned gaps, particularly up front.

Hitting in practice doesn’t occur during the regular season but coach Mike Tomlin said that shouldn’t prevent the Steelers from improving this week when it comes to the most basic fundamental in football.

“Tackling is about a plan or an approach, and having a hardcore plan and recognizing the positions that your positions puts you in (and) the manner in which you approach the ball from a variety of positions on the field,” Tomlin said. “All of those things can be done in a practice setting without actually tackling. We have been emphasizing that (and) we’ll continue and we’ll expect the tackling to improve because of it.”

Keisel said he is encouraged by the desire of the younger players on the Steelers’ defense to get better.

“Guys are willing to work, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to take coaching and that’s a positive thing,” said Keisel, who is in his 13th NFL season. “But you’ve got to make it a habit. You’ve got to approach it like a pro, you’ve got to study like a pro, and that’s the biggest thing I want these guys to understand. That this is big business and you’ve got to be ready to go when that National Anthem goes off.”

And if they don’t?

“We’re going to be up and down like we were all last year,” Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered high praise for a pair of Carolina Panthers players, including linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think he is legitimately in the argument of a J.J. Watt in terms of some of the most exciting young football players in our game,” Tomlin said. “Luke Kuechly is quite simply one of the best in the business.”

That lofty assessment is not merely a case of Tomlin laying it on thick when talking about an upcoming opponent.

Kuechly is the first player since a guy named Lawrence Taylor to win the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.

The 6-3, 238-pounder piled up 156 tackles while intercepting four passes last season in helping the Panthers in the NFC South. Kuechly is tied for third in the NFL with 20 tackles through two games and the 2012 first-round draft pick also has a sack.

“There’s nothing that he can’t do,” Tomlin said of the Panthers’ 23-year-old middle linebacker. “He is good at blitzing. He is a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He has innate instincts. He can slip blocks. He can defeat blocks physically. He is great in the passing game.”

The Panthers used their most recent first-round pick to address their passing game on the other side of the ball.

And Kelvin Benjamin, a big and rangy wide receiver, has already provided some early returns for Carolina.

The former Florida State star has caught eight passes, including one for a touchdown, in two games, and is averaging 17.3 yards per reception.

The Steelers took a long look at the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin prior to the draft last May and Tomlin and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert each attended Florida State's Pro Day.

“There are big wideouts and there are really big wideouts,” Tomlin said of Benjamin, the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft. “This guy is really big. He is going to have a 50 pound or so advantage on just about every defensive back he comes across. He has good body control. He has good, strong hands. He attacks the ball. [Carolina quarterback] Cam [Newton] does an awesome job of locating balls and putting balls in locations that only Benjamin can make the plays. He is an impressive young man.”

Steelers sticking with Marcus Gilbert

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said right tackle Marcus Gilbert is not in danger of losing his starting job despite giving up four sacks through the first two weeks of the season.

“I’m not concerned about Marcus and his ability to rebound,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I expect him to come back fighting like Rocky.”

The fourth-year veteran needs to summon up some Balboa-esque grit after getting pushed around by Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil last Thursday night.

Dumervil recorded both of the Ravens’ sacks in a 26-6 win over the Steelers, and he beat Gilbert badly on the second one. The 5-foot-11, 255-pound Dumervil bull rushed Gilbert and knocked the 6-6, 315-pounder on his back on the way to a sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Tomlin gave credit to Dumervil, an accomplished pass rusher, but he also said Gilbert needs to play better.

“When I coached college football I used to say they have scholarships, too. I think the same applies to the National Football League,” Tomlin said in reference to Dumervil’s success against Gilbert.

The Steelers, however, are expecting more out of Gilbert after signing the former second-round draft pick to a five-year, $26.2 million contract last month.

Gilbert played well in camp and the preseason, never allowing Mike Adams to mount a serious challenge to his starting job. The Steelers need Gilbert to show that his struggles in the first two games of the regular season are an aberration.

“If you play 60-plus snaps and you give up two sacks, it’s a bad game,” Tomlin said. “That’s the nature of our business, and I’m sure as a tackle that’s a challenge [Gilbert] embraces.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of a typical hard-hitting game against the Baltimore Ravens in pretty good shape from an injury standpoint.

Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is the only player who sustained an injury that could keep him out of the Steelers’ Sunday night game against Carolina. McLendon hurt his shoulder and coach Mike Tomlin said he is questionable to play against the 2-0 Panthers.

Rookie running back Dri Archer also is questionable after missing the Ravens game because of a sprained ankle.

McLendon and Archer each practiced on a limited basis on Monday.

Wide receiver Lance Moore was a full participant in practice on Monday after missing the first two games because of a groin injury. The ninth-year veteran is optimistic that he will play against the Panthers, though Tomlin said a lot will depend on how Moore’s body responds to practicing this week.

“We’ll watch his response to yesterday’s work and formulate a plan,” Tomlin said. “Obviously Lance is a guy who’s capable of helping us. He knows how to play football. When we get him back out there we expect him to be a positive contributor to our efforts.”

Tomlin did not mention quarterback Ben Roethlisberger among the Steelers' injured players. But Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that he is still “very sore” after getting drilled in the chest last Thursday night by Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

“That was a significant shot that comes with the territory that he’s embraced over the years,” Tomlin said of his quarterback.

Roethlisberger struggled with his accuracy in the Steelers’ 26-6 loss to the Ravens but Tomlin brushed off a question about whether the early hit affected Roethlisberger’s play.

“He’s not going to make excuses and I’m not going to either," the eighth-year coach said. "He’s capable of playing better and we look forward to working hard so that it occurs this weekend.”
BALTIMORE -- An examination of what the Pittsburgh Steelers must do after their 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Just as Justin Brown’s lost fumble inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line portended the kind of night it would be for an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters, the Steelers’ defense drew two flags on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage.

The penalty the Ravens accepted – a 15-yard face-mask call on cornerback Cortez Allen – helped turn a short reception by Steve Smith into a 29-yard gain.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
AP Photo/Gail BurtonMike Tomlin is not happy about the attention his team is getting from referees after two games.
And penalties ultimately doomed the Steelers’ defense as much as its inability to stop the run or cover the middle of the field.

Two games into the season, penalties are a problem for the Steelers -- and the problem is not confined to one side of the ball.

They have had 20 penalties assessed against them and a handful more declined. The Steelers' 10 penalties a game is double the number of penalties they averaged last season.

And their 85.5 penalty yards per game is more than double the penalty yards (42.3) the Steelers averaged last season.

“We’ve got to play technically and cleaner,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The spike in penalties will be an indictment of Tomlin and his staff and – just as troubling -- a reflection of a decline in talent if it continues.

It is too early to call it a trend, but the defense hasn’t played well enough, dating to last season, to earn a pass either for the five penalties assessed against it Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Two of the penalties came on the Ravens’ opening drive, which resulted in a touchdown, and both were committed by Allen.

Allen, who signed a five-year, $26.2 million contact last Saturday, had 38 penalty yards on Baltimore’s first drive compared to 24 passing yards by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Numbers like that explain why the Ravens beat the Steelers soundly -- and why the Steelers were lucky to lose by only 20 points.

Sure, there were a couple of questionable unnecessary roughness calls on Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell on the Ravens’ second touchdown drive.

But a roughing-the-passer call on Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw extended the Steelers’ first drive and Baltimore was able to overcome that.

The Steelers, meanwhile, did too many things to beat themselves, starting with turnovers and penalties.

When asked how to correct the latter, Polamalu said, “Just work on playing cleaner, practicing better.”
Ben Roethlisberger Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense were out of sync against the Ravens.
BALTIMORE -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, in spite of themselves, hung around on a sticky Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

They trailed the Baltimore Ravens by just a touchdown, and the offense was on the move near the end of the first half when Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass that sailed over the head of 6-foot-5 tight end Heath Miller.

The Steelers punted instead of getting a fresh set of downs inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.

And that errant pass defined their dismal night as much as the three turnovers they committed and the nine penalties that also had coach Mike Tomlin fuming during a terse postgame news conference.

The Ravens beat the Steelers 26-6 at M&T Bank Stadium. What should be most troubling to Tomlin, who is 17-17 in his past 34 games, is that Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9 in its past six quarters.

True, the defense may actually be worse at stopping the run than it was last season, which was considered an outlier. But the offense was expected to carry the defense until the young players got more experience and the new players got a grasp of the system.

Roethlisberger, after looking shaky in the second half of the Steelers' 30-27 win over the Browns, was pedestrian in his second start.

The 11th-year veteran completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards against the Ravens. He missed three open receivers when the outcome still hung in the balance.

Roethlisberger didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t come close to conjuring up some of the magic that he has before in Baltimore.

Four years ago, Roethlisberger played through a broken nose and late in the game he held off Terrell Suggs long enough to throw away a pass. The next play he threw for the game-winning touchdown. Two years before that, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to beat the Ravens.

Those games seem like they are from a bygone era.

And maybe they are with all of the turnover of personnel that has taken place since the Steelers played in three Super Bowls and won two of them from 2005-10.

Roethlisberger though is the one player who holds the Steelers together and gives them hope, and his wide receivers could have given him a little more help Thursday night.

Maybe Justin Brown was supposed to stop in the middle of the field on a third-down pass that Roethlisberger threw behind him in the second quarter. Maybe Markus Wheaton and even Pro Bowler Antonio Brown could have done a better job fighting for balls that Roethlisberger gave them a chance to catch.

But the reality is that Roethlisberger has to raise the level of play of everyone around him, not the other way around.

And he has to start with himself if the Steelers are to have any chance of returning to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

An examination of what the Pittsburgh Steelers must do after their 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns:

The Steelers will work on all aspects of communication this week after repeated defensive breakdowns against the Browns.

They don’t have a lot of time to fix what coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged were communication problems from the sideline to the players and from the players to one another as the Browns went up and down the field after halftime.

Pittsburgh has just three days to prepare for a Thursday night game at Baltimore, and the Ravens will surely look closely at the success the Browns had in the second half against the Steelers.

The Browns piled up 288 yards in the second half and erased a 24-point halftime deficit while running and throwing the ball with equal success.

They kept the Steelers defense on its heels by running a no-huddle attack almost exclusively after halftime. The surprise with the confusion that the no-huddle offense caused is that the Steelers defense practiced extensively against it in training camp and the preseason.

“We’ve had some good days,” Tomlin said of the Steelers practicing against the no-huddle. “Obviously, [Sunday] was not one. We’re not going to let [Sunday] define us by any stretch.”

The Steelers defense should get a chance to redeem itself against the no-huddle offense Thursday.

The Ravens used it in the second half of their 23-16 loss to the Bengals on Sunday to change the tempo of the game. They went no-huddle on eight of the 10 plays that covered 82 yards in the third quarter and resulted in the Ravens’ first touchdown.

The communication issues that hampered the Steelers in the second half against the Browns are disconcerting since defenses tend to stay more basic when the opposing offense is in no-huddle mode.

Three new players -- rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Cam Thomas and free safety Mike Mitchell -- started on defense in the season opener. But Tomlin would not use that as a crutch for why confusion reigned in the second half against the Browns.

“The big thing is we’ve got to communicate it [since] communication is integral to execution,” Tomlin said. “We were [lined up] where we were supposed to be, but based on some of the results of those snaps, I can’t say that we were ready.”

Browns vs. Steelers preview

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Johnny Manziel and Ryan Shazier USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on these rookies in Week 1: Cleveland's Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.

And something has to give in the game in which Johnny Manziel is expected to make his NFL debut. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive games at Heinz Field, while the Steelers haven't won a season opener since 2010.

ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Nation Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 1 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Pat, how many times have you written the surname Manziel since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in early May? Well, let's get the obligatory Manziel chatter out of the way. How do you see the Browns using Manziel on Sunday and how much do you expect him to play?

McManamon: As for the first part, Scott, let's say more than five and less than 10,000, but just barely less. I would be surprised if Manziel does not see the field for a play or a series in each half. The Browns and coach Mike Pettine have been coy about how he'll be used, but he does bring a different element than Brian Hoyer, and the Browns could put him on the field the same way the Steelers first used Kordell Stewart. Certain down-and-distance situations might be good for the read-option, or certain spots on the field might be good for a quarterback who can move. I don't think Manziel will play a lot, but I do think he'll play in the right spot, as judged by the coaching staff.

Scott, a slow start doomed the Steelers last season. How determined are they to avoid that slow start again, and how much bad luck is it for the Browns to draw the Steelers in the opener?

Brown: For the record, I am not going to start calling you Pat McFootball no matter how many times you privately lobby me to do so. Take a picture with the Biebs in it and we will talk. With that order of business out of the way, I will say the schedule-makers did not do the Browns any favors by having them open in Pittsburgh. I suspect the Steelers will publicly downplay the notion that this is a must-win game, but in reality it is. The Steelers cannot start slow again this season, and with road games against the Ravens and the Panthers looming, they have to beat the Browns. As hard as it is to win in the NFL, nothing is more served on a platter than an opponent that hasn't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade and has an offense riddled with question marks. Did I mention Ben Roethlisberger, who has never forgiven the Browns for passing on him in the 2004 NFL draft, has lost just one time to Cleveland?

Getting back to the Browns' offense, who do the Steelers have to worry about beating them with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the season?

McManamon: Nobody, really. The Browns will try to run the ball and use tight end Jordan Cameron creatively, but there is no real outside threat even close to the threat Gordon provided. And Cameron better get used to consistent double coverage. It's almost unfair to throw a quarterback into a game with these circumstances. Running back Ben Tate probably will be the offensive bell cow. He'll be featured prominently in the game plan. But the Steelers stop the run in their sleep. This game will be a serious challenge for the Browns' offense and offensive coaches.

Speaking of offense, how has and how will the marijuana possession charges against Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount affect the team, if at all, this weekend?

Brown: It is a footnote to this game. Not to minimize the stupidity that the Steelers' top two running backs showed -- and they are worthy of all of the unflattering nicknames that have surfaced on social media, among other places -- but the issue has presumably been dealt with from the Steelers' end. If Bell and Blount had been suspended for the season opener, we would have seen Roethlisberger throwing a ton of passes and a one-dimensional offense. But with both Bell and Blount slated to play against the Browns, the Steelers' offense will be at full strength.

I am real interested in seeing whether the Steelers try to set up the pass through the run or vice versa. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predictably gushed about Cleveland's defense at his news conference earlier this week, and certainly that unit is the strength of the Browns. Will that defense be as good as advertised?

McManamon: Let's tap the brakes on this "good defense." Nobody knows yet. The defense has new names -- and they are good names to have -- but they might not be improved. Also, a defense that was supposed to be good a season ago made a habit of blowing late leads. The weak spot this season is the same as last -- cornerback opposite Joe Haden. First-round pick Justin Gilbert is going through significant growing pains, and Buster Skrine is coming off a thumb injury. The Browns wanted Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but he's on injured reserve. Smart teams pick at weaknesses; it would be surprising if the Steelers don't pick on the second corner. The other concern, which has been an ongoing issue: Will the defense wear down because it's on the field too much due to the offense struggling?

Staying with defense, Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is an Ohio State guy, and there's been a lot of positive press on him throughout preseason. Has he been that good?

Brown: He has, but the caveat, of course, is that Shazier has yet to play in an NFL game that counts. That changes Sunday, and most telling about the progress Shazier has made is the fact he will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. There will be the inevitable growing pains as the first-round pick adjusts to the speed of the game at this level. Probably the biggest concern with Shazier is whether he will consistently be able to shed blocks since the 6-1, 237-pounder is not the biggest linebacker. The Browns' offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, so it will be a good opening test for Shazier. I think the kid is going to be a star, and I predict he will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
PITTSBURGH – The question centered on Antonio Brown’s role -- and specifically whether the Pro Bowl wide receiver would continue to pull double duty this season.

Mike Tomlin said he wouldn’t let the fear of an injury to one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most valuable players stop him from using Brown as a punt returner, where he also earned Pro Bowl honors last season.

Tomlin then referenced the depth chart where Brown is listed ahead of rookie Dri Archer at punt returner.

So what, then, to read into the Steelers’ depth chart at defensive end? Apparently not much with Brett Keisel’s role still undetermined.

Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers two weeks ago, is listed as the second-team right defensive end behind Cam Thomas. Cameron Heyward, meanwhile, is the starter at left defensive end, with rookie Stephon Tuitt behind him.

Heyward played at right defensive end throughout offseason practices and the preseason, and Tomlin said the fourth-year veteran won’t necessarily move to accommodate Keisel.

“[Keisel] might be the pliable guy,” Tomlin said. “I think those are things we are still sorting out.”

Keisel has started the last eight seasons at right defensive end, but Tomlin and his staff are still trying to figure out the best way to utilize “Da Beard.”

He could end up backing up Heyward at right defensive end and playing in a rotation on the left side with Thomas and Tuitt. What seems clear is that the roles at defensive end won’t be clearly defined in the foreseeable future.

“I still think we’re just getting a sense of what Brett is capable of from a snap standpoint,” Tomlin said. “That will have a lot to do with his utilization in the game along with the performance of others. He’s going to be an asset to us. I look forward to continuing to watch him round into form.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers all but made it official last Saturday when they set their 53-man roster that running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will play in the season opener.

The Steelers only kept two other running backs, and one is a fullback (Will Johnson) while the other is a scatback (Dri Archer) who is also listed on the roster as a wide receiver.

Coach Mike Tomlin had said after Bell and Blount were arrested for possession of marijuana -- Bell was also charged with driving under the influence -- that the Steelers had not ruled out suspending both players.

Clearly the eighth-year coach publicly left that option to impress upon Bell and Blount how badly they had erred after getting charged less than two hours before the Steelers flew to Philadelphia for their third preseason games.

But there was never any serious question about whether the Steelers would suspend them. As for whether the two have already been punished, Tomlin said, “That will be between us.”

More significant in regard to the season opener is how the Steelers will use Bell and Blount Sunday against the visiting Browns.

Tomlin has said that both Bell and Blount will share the workload at running back.

But at his weekly news conference Tomlin said he does not necessarily see Bell having to accept a reduced role after averaging just over 20 touches per game last season.

When asked if he could see Bell getting 20 to 25 touches a game this season, Tomlin said, “I think we drafted him with that in mind.”

Of course the Steelers drafted Bell before they added Blount, who may be the most talented runner on the roster, and the ultra-fast Archer this offseason.

The backfield is a little more crowded this season.

But Bell's versatility will help the Steelers keep him heavily involved with offense while also taking advantage of Blount and Archer, who they will try to get the ball in space.

Bell caught 45 passes in 13 games as a rookie, and his receptions should rise this season. If Bell also averages around the 17.2 carries he received per game in 2013 he could get well over 300 touches this season provided the former second-round pick stays healthy.

One of the more interesting storylines with the season opener less than a week away is how the Steelers will use Bell, Blount and Archer.

And how the math will play out at running back.

Steelers healthy with opener looming

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers should head into the regular season with a relatively clean bill of health.

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is nursing an A/C shoulder sprain that kept the rookie from practicing on Monday, but coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t ruled out Bryant playing Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns.

“At this stage early in the week we’re going to leave the light on for all of these men,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

A handful of players who have been working through injuries practiced at least on a limited basis on Monday, the first day the Steelers went through drills since assembling their 53-man roster.

Those include cornerback Brice McCain (groin), linebacker Sean Spence (knee), tight end Matt Spaeth (leg), wide receiver Lance Moore (leg) and long snapper Greg Warren (knee).

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Tomlin said.

One thing Tomlin said he is not worried about when it comes to injuries is Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown getting hurt while returning punts.

Brown will serve as the Steelers’ primary punt returner, Tomlin said, with rookie Dri Archer behind the fifth-year veteran.

Brown averaged 12.8 yards per punt return last season and scored a touchdown in that phase of the game.

“He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber return man. So that’s what you do with those guys, you play them,” Tomlin said. “I don’t live with my fears.”
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.”