Thursday, June 10, 2010
On the radar: Bruce Arians
By James Walker
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Simply mention Bruce Arians' name in Pittsburgh and it's sure to cause a polarizing debate among Steeler Nation.
Some criticize Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator for getting away from the power running game, which has been a Steelers staple for generations. And detractors often point out Arians' reluctance to use a fullback, which is un-Steeler-like.
The spotlight will shine even brighter on Bruce Arians this season.
Supporters will argue that Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl under Arians following the 2008 season and had a 4,000-yard quarterback, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher last year. Things aren't perfect (see red zone production), but the Steelers are moving the football under Arians, supporters say.
But no matter what side of the fence you're on with Arians, everyone agrees that this is a big year for the Steelers' offensive coordinator. After a chaotic offseason that included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's conditional six-game suspension and a trade of receiver Santonio Holmes, Arians has a golden opportunity to prove himself. His game planning and play calling will be at a premium during Roethlisberger's suspension.
If Pittsburgh continues to rack up yards and score points without Roethlisberger and Holmes, Arians would silence many of his critics. The key will be a more consistent running game, led by tailback Rashard Mendenhall and perhaps first-round draft pick and interior offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey.
Although quarterback is a question early this season, the weapons in the passing game are still there.
Veteran receiver Hines Ward is still productive. Second-year receiver Mike Wallace is an up-and-coming talent and tight end Heath Miller is coming off a Pro Bowl season. It will be up to Arians to figure out how reserve quarterbacks Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon will get the ball in the hands of these playmakers.
When things went well offensively for Pittsburgh, "Big Ben" got most of the credit. Yet when things went poorly, Arians received most of the blame.
This year, all of the credit or blame will rest squarely on Arians' shoulders -- at least through the first four or six games of the season without No. 7 around.