NFL Nation: Ben Roethlisberger


PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession.

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier.

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller.

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 21, 2014
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The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) play Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offensive starters will play at least a half, and look for the Steelers to run the no-huddle attack extensively, matching the fast pace their defense will see from the Eagles. Roethlisberger wants to get work with the no-huddle offense on the road, where he will have to rely on hand signals more because of crowd noise. It will also be interesting to see how much the Steelers run out of their no-huddle offense. They wanted to establish the run with their starters in their first preseason game. Check. They wanted to come out throwing in the no-huddle in their second preseason game. Check. Now it’s time to see the Steelers run the ball extensively out of the no-huddle, as that will be a significant component of their offense this season.
  • An ankle injury to Shamarko Thomas last season provided an opportunity that veteran Will Allen exploited. Allen established himself as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, relegating Thomas to special-teams duty the rest of the season. Now Allen is nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Steelers’ second preseason game, and the 11th-year veteran might not play against the Eagles. Thomas looks like a different player in his second season, and he drew pretty high praise from coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday. If Thomas wins the job as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, does that make Allen expendable? It could if the Steelers only keep four safeties and third-year man Robert Golden continues to play well.
  • Roethlisberger challenged wide receiver Martavis Bryant earlier this week to practice with more of a purpose, to practice like Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. If Roethlisberger isn’t handling the rookie fourth-round pick with kid gloves, that is because the Steelers think Bryant can be an asset in the passing game -- and sooner rather than later. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant has a unique blend of size and speed, and he is the kind of wideout whom the Steelers have rarely had with Roethlisberger at quarterback. I’d love to see Bryant get some work with the first-team offense. Same with Justin Brown, who has just three catches for 15 yards in two preseason games and has received most of his playing time with the backup quarterbacks.


PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' first-team offense needed less than five minutes to score two touchdowns, and one of those came on a 67-yard catch-and-run by Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Yet the story of the night at Heinz Field was the Steelers’ defense -- and specifically a prized rookie who is on his way to becoming one of the faces of a unit that is in transition.

Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier starred in his NFL debut, recording six tackles, two stops on special teams and an interception.

And that was just in the first quarter of the Steelers’ 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills .

“I thought he did an awesome job,” Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Shazier finished with 11 tackles despite playing a little less than a half. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound speedster answered several questions about how much a bruised knee that cost him two weeks of training camp set back the first-round pick.

The short answer: It didn’t.

Shazier was all over the field, and his interception of an EJ Manuel pass in the second quarter set up the second of Ben Roethlisberger’s two touchdown passes.

Roethlisberger played into the second quarter and looked sharp, completing 8 of 11 passes for 128 yards. The Steelers won their first preseason game since 2012 despite squandering an early 10-point lead.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ second preseason game:


  • The starting offense line didn’t punch many holes in one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, as the Steelers rushed for just 10 yards in the first half. It did keep Roethlisberger clean and gave the 11-year veteran enough time to stand in the pocket and deliver a 16-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton for the Steelers’ second score.
  • The starting defense, which played more than a quarter and was missing only outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin), didn’t allow a touchdown. But it’s hard to tell how much of a test it received. Ballyhooed wide receiver Sammy Watkins left the game early with a rib injury and did not return. Manuel, meanwhile, is nothing more than a dink-and-dunk quarterback. The Bills have 6-10 written all over them unless Manuel makes dramatic improvement in his second season.
  • Mike Mitchell might want to tone it down a little bit. The Steelers’ free safety drew a taunting penalty after jawing at Bills running back C.J. Spiller following a stop that he wasn’t even in on. Yo, Mike, you’re still the new guy in town. Better to be seen than heard for now.
  • Landry Jones, the second quarterback in for the Steelers, is lucky he didn’t get yanked after throwing an interception and later losing a fumble that the Bills turned into a game-tying touchdown. Jones took a step back; 40 of his 53 passing yards came on a catch-and-run by Dri Archer, and he was sacked twice.
  • A pair of undrafted rookies, defensive end Josh Mauro and outside linebacker Howard Jones, played with the second-team defense. Mauro appears to have moved past Brian Arnfelt, who played in a couple of games at the end of last season after spending most of 2013 on the Steelers’ practice squad. Mauro notched a sack in the fourth quarter after Jones helped flush Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel out of the pocket. Jones also recovered the fumble that set up Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal.

Observation Deck: Buffalo Bills

August, 16, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The Buffalo Bills' 19-16 preseason loss Saturday night to the Pittsburgh Steelers was overshadowed by an injury to Sammy Watkins, the Bills' prized acquisition from May's draft.

Watkins was hit in the ribs on a third-down pass early in the first quarter and quickly grabbed at the area in pain. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and did not return.

Here are some other thoughts on the Bills' preseason loss:
  • Quarterback EJ Manuel and the Bills' first-team offense played the entire first half, although that wasn't the plan entering the game. The Bills failed to get into the end zone on their first three trips into Steelers territory, so Doug Marrone wanted his offense to try a fourth time. It failed, as the Bills reached the Steelers' 3-yard line before two consecutive incompletions led to a turnover on downs. The Bills' red zone offense struggled last season and it's a problem that hasn't gone away. Manuel has yet to throw a touchdown pass this preseason.
  • As for Manuel's overall performance, there were ups and downs. His best throw of the night came on a 16-yard completion to Robert Woods that moved the chains in the second quarter. Overall, the Bills' first-team offense was 5-for-9 on third downs, which was a brighter spot. However, Manuel's night was marred by an interception by Ryan Shazier on a pass that was thrown slightly behind tight end Scott Chandler. Manuel's final stat line was 17-for-27 for 148 yards. There was not marked improvement over his outing on Aug. 8.
  • Watkins and Mike Williams received the start at receiver, with Chris Hogan entering on the first drive as a slot receiver. When Watkins was injured, he was replaced by Woods, who finished the first half with three catches for 49 yards. The Bills' leading receiver? Running back Fred Jackson, who caught seven passes for 28 yards. It was more of a dink-and-dunk night from Manuel, especially without Watkins.
  • The Steelers' offense got off to a quick start when Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a 76-yard catch-and-run on the Steelers' second play from scrimmage. On the play, safety Duke Williams collided with cornerback Corey Graham, allowing Brown to run free over the middle. Williams received the start in place of Aaron Williams, who came on with the second-team defense in the third quarter. Marrone previously said not to read into Aaron Williams' playing time as an indication of his performance in the preseason.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 16, 2014
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The Buffalo Bills (1-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) play Saturday night at Heinz Field.
  • The first-team offense will get its first extended action of the preseason, and you can look for the starters to play at least a quarter. Ben Roethlisberger put together a nice drive in the only series the veteran quarterback played last Saturday night against the Giants, but the Steelers couldn’t finish it. They had to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal after the offense stalled inside the Giants’ 10-yard line. “That’s certainly a trend we don’t want to start, not finishing off our drive,” tight end Heath Miller said. “We need to be better in the red zone.” The Steelers also need to be better when it comes to extending drives. They converted just 2 of 14 times on third down in the 20-16 loss to the Giants.
  • All signs point to rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier playing in his first preseason game. Shazier, who didn’t play against the Giants because of a bruised knee, was a full participant in the Steelers’ final practice of training camp. The speedy Shazier has been impressive when he has been on the practice field. Now it’s time for the first-round pick to show what he can do in a game. The first-team defense should be intact with Shazier’s anticipated NFL debut and strong safety Troy Polamalu also expected to play against the Bills. Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t play Polamalu against the Giants, but the eight-time Pro Bowler needs to get some game action with new free safety Mike Mitchell.
  • A number of players who showed progress in camp could make a move in the game, and that is critical to their push for a spot on the 53-man roster. Tomlin said that the last week of camp (which concluded with a pair of joint practices with the Bills at St. Vincent College) and the Steelers’ second preseason camp is when separation among players fighting for a roster spot really occurs. That should keep fans from changing the channel after the starters have been taken out of the game. Linebacker Dan Molls, who led the Steelers with nine tackles against the Giants, should see extended playing time if Vince Williams (concussion) and Jordan Zumwalt (groin) don’t play against the Bills. Other players to watch include defensive end Josh Mauro, tight end Eric Waters, running back Tauren Poole, outside linebacker Howard Jones and safety Jordan Dangerfield. “I told a couple of guys we’re calling for a third defense [in practice] and in a couple of weeks there will be no third defense,” Tomlin said earlier this week. “So if you’re on the third defense you better make a move.”

W2W4: Buffalo Bills

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
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PITTSBURGH -- The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in a preseason contest Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at Heinz Field.

1. EJ Manuel's consistency: Speaking to reporters after his 17-for-22 performance in Thursday's practice, Manuel stressed how he wanted to be more consistent and to carry over his successes from one practice (or game) to the next. He'll have a chance to do that Saturday. It's a similar story to last season. He completed 69 percent of his passes in Week 2, only to see his rate drop to the mid-40s in Weeks 3 and 4. Likewise, he posted a 71.4 rate in Week 11 before dropping down to the mid-50s the next two games. Manuel completed 69 percent of his throws in last Friday's game and 77 percent in Thursday's practice. Staying in that general range Saturday will suggest an improvement over his inconsistencies from last season.

2. Sammy Watkins' strides: If Manuel is storyline No. 1A with the Bills, then Watkins is No. 1B. Outside of his early drop in Wednesday's session, Watkins had another strong week of practice. Last week, it translated over into the game, with Manuel finding his top receiver three times for 21 yards. The two are likely to see more playing time together Saturday -- potentially through the first half -- so there should more opportunities to build chemistry in a live game setting. We've yet to see the duo stretch the field vertically in the preseason. Perhaps that will change Saturday.

3. Can defense maintain its pace? Outside of the Panthers' early touchdown drive, the Bills' first-team defense hasn't allowed more than 5 total yards on any drives this preseason. They've been downright smothering and it starts with the defensive line. They'll have a longer run in Saturday's game and a tougher opposing quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Does the defense continue to hold up well, or are some holes exposed? Our attention will be on the cornerbacks, especially Stephon Gilmore's potential matchup with Antonio Brown. Expect Roethlisberger to test that one early.
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LATROBE, Pa. -- Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was always one of the better interviews during the four seasons he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He almost always gave thoughtful and honest answers, and I don't want to bash him for his unvarnished take on Peyton Manning's leadership compared to that of Ben Roethlisberger.

Too often we, as in the media, complain that the players and teams we cover give responses to our questions that are as canned as they are clichéd. And then we club them over the head with their words if they ignite a controversy.

What I can't reconcile with Sanders' assertion that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger is a scene inside a silent visiting locker room at M&T Bank Stadium late last November.

The Steelers had just suffered a crushing 22-20 loss to the Ravens after rallying back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit. They should have tied the game late when Roethlisberger put a two-point conversion pass right on Sanders' hands.

Sanders dropped the ball, bringing to a screeching halt the three-game winning steak and momentum that the Steelers had taken into the game on Thanksgiving night.

Inside the Steelers' locker room, just after the scab had been ripped off a team that had started the season 0-4, Roethlisberger put his arm around his crestfallen teammate and talked into the earhole of Sanders' helmet.

A little later Roethlisberger offered similar encouraging words when he spoke to reporters about Sanders -- as well as an endorsement of a wide receiver whose next 100-yard game will be his first in the NFL.

If what Roethlisberger did in that locker room when emotions were still so raw isn't leadership, I don't know what is. And I keep flashing back to that scene with Sanders standing by what he said on a Denver radio station a couple of weeks ago.

I applaud Sanders for owning his comments and not playing the taken-out-of-context card.

But he is off base, and not just because Roethlisberger was one of his biggest supporters when the two were teammates.

Sure, Roethlisberger doesn’t throw to his wide receivers after practice as much as Manning does, but one of Manning's hallmarks is his obsessive attention to detail. How many quarterbacks wouldn't suffer in comparison to Manning when looking solely at the extra work they put in with their wide receivers?

Also, Sanders apparently hasn't kept up with what has been going on with the Steelers since he signed with the Broncos.

Roethlisberger has never been more engaged with his wide receivers, and he has been their coach as much as their quarterback at training camp.

This is clearly his offense.

And his team.

Sanders doesn't owe Roethlisberger an apology even though former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was spot-on when he said there are different kinds of leadership.

Sanders truly believes what he said, and he has a right to his opinion.

He does owe his former quarterback a phone call, if only so Roethlisberger can ask a simple question: Why take a shot at a former teammate who picked up Sanders during one of his lowest moments as a professional?
LATROBE, Pa. -- Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor offered his unique take on the brawl that broke out -- and almost got really ugly -- Tuesday during a joint practice between the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.

“They should have paid per view that one,” Taylor said Wednesday as rain once again pelted Western Pennsylvania.

The Steelers hope nothing that would be worthy of charging people to watch on TV happens this afternoon.

The Steelers close out training camp with a pair of joint practices with the Buffalo Bills, weather permitting, this afternoon and Thursday, and they break camp on Friday.

The Raiders-Cowboys melee, which erupted right in front of a cluster of fans, served as a reminder that as happy as players are to practice against a different opponent tempers aren’t always kept in check.

“Going against someone else you always want to prove a point,” said Taylor, who will take part in his first joint practice at training camp. “The testosterone level is sky-high on the field.”

That is the case no matter who players are lining up against, making training camp fights are inevitable.

The Steelers nearly brawled among themselves on Aug. 1 after Le’Veon Bell and Vince Williams wrestled each other to the ground at the end of a back-on-’backers drill. And Tuesday Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown slapped rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson in the helmet and the two had to be separated.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave his take on training camp fights Wednesday morning on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” show.

“I think it’s one of those things where you like to see the aggressiveness,” Roethlisberger said, “but I don’t like it for the fact that I don’t want someone to get hurt, hurt a hand or something like that. That’s where I stand on it.

“I usually just keep my distance because I’m a little guy compared to those guys that are usually fighting. The crazy thing about a quarterback, he’s a lot like a goalie. When he starts a fight people always jump in. Your linemen always get in there before anything, so it’s kind of a nice thing.”
Ben Roethlisberger’s only completion of the game turned into a highlight-reel play thanks to Dri Archer. The speedy rookie caught a short pass on a well-executed bubble screen and looked every bit as fast as advertised in scooting 46 yards and setting up an early field goal in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

The Steelers could not protect a fourth-quarter lead in losing their preseason opener Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. They haven't won a preseason game since 2012.

Roethlisberger played just one series before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski. The offense couldn’t build on a promising start as the Steelers failed to reach the end zone until they scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first-team defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to Rashad Jennings early in the game but didn’t allow much more in the quarter it was on the field.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ first preseason game:
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to be furious after Jennings scooted through a yawning gap on the right side of the Steelers’ defense on the way to the game’s first touchdown. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was knocked out of his gap by a pulling guard, leaving a huge hole and resulting in the kind of big play that made it seem like 2013 all over again for the Steelers’ defense. Coach Mike Tomlin was not happy with his secondary on the play as safety Will Allen had a chance to get Jennings on the ground but couldn’t make the tackle. Jennings outraced cornerbacks Cortez Allen and William Gay to the end zone.
  • Sean Spence, playing in his first game in almost two years, looked terrific. Spence, starting for the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, shot a gap on the first series of the game and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw a third-down pass into the turf. Spence later stuffed Andre Brown for a short gain on a running play that resulted in a holding call in the Giants. Spence, who has returned from a career-threatening knee injury, had one blemish, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on special teams. But the Steelers couldn’t have asked for more from Spence, who is their third-best inside linebacker and solid insurance in case of an injury to Shazier.
  • Markus Wheaton made a nice grab on a post-corner route and his 28-yard reception was the second-longest gain by the Steelers in their preseason opener. Wheaton, however, needs a blocking tutorial or four from former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Wheaton won’t like seeing his blocking efforts on several plays, including one on a 7-yard run by Tauren Poole. Wheaton didn’t lock up on anyone as Poole broke into the open field, allowing the Giants to minimize the damage on Poole’s run.
  • The first-team offensive line played well in limited action, providing a nice push on the Steelers’ first possession of the game when they ran on the Giants first-team defense. The second-team offensive line really struggled. Left tackle Mike Adams did not help himself, getting overwhelmed several times by speed pass-rushers, including two-time Pro Bowl selection Jason Pierre-Paul. Guy Whimper, playing right tackle, was beaten badly on a passing play in the third quarter and center Cody Wallace was flagged for holding in the same period.
  • Outside linebacker Howard Jones and defensive end Josh Mauro were among the undrafted rookies who stood out. Jones recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one for a 28-yard touchdown. Mauro, playing with the second-team defense, blew up a passing play by bull-rushing a running back into the lap of Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. He also appeared to hold his ground at right defensive end more often than not.

W2W4: New York Giants

August, 9, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants (1-0) take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) in their second game of the preseason Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.

1. The pass rush: Damontre Moore looked good against a rookie backup tackle Sunday night in Canton, but I was expecting more than I saw from Jason Pierre-Paul in the short time the first team was on the field. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (assuming he plays) poses a tough test for a pass rush because of his mobility in and outside of the pocket. But it'll be interesting to see whether the Giants' defensive ends can get into the backfield and help dictate the action. They only had 33 sacks last year. Justin Tuck, who had 11 of them, is no longer on the team. Pierre-Paul must deliver at a high level this year, and it would help the Giants' optimism about this critical aspect of their defense to see him wreak havoc against a real opponent, even in a meaningless game.

2. The passing offense: The Giants' first-team offense only looked effective Sunday when it was running the ball -- and against a backup defensive line, at that. They definitely want to lean on the run, but they'd also like to get their short, quick passing game going at some point this preseason. They still don't have first-round wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) on the field, but that means more opportunity for guys like Marcus Harris, Corey Washington and Preston Parker, who are trying to earn roster spots. Can Victor Cruz get open in the slot and show an ability to turn a short pass into a long gain? His position in your next fantasy draft could depend on it.

3. The secondary: This looks like the star unit of the team on either side of the ball, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said this week that the question was "Can we get them to play together?" I have other questions. Is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie really a lock-down corner who can play the opposing team's No. 1 receiver every week? (And which superhero cleats will he wear?) Will Prince Amukamara's determination to increase his interception total pay off? Will Walter Thurmond continue to dominate other team's slot receivers the way he's been handling Victor Cruz in practice every day? Does Zack Bowman continue to force his way into the mix with his physical style? And speaking of physical style, will this group get called for fewer downfield penalties in this game than it did Sunday?
LATROBE, Pa. -- A seemingly forgotten linebacker has hit harder than some of the storms that swept through the area during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first week of training camp.

Vince Williams jolted Le'Veon Bell several times during a back-on-'backers drill last Friday night, leading to the first fight of camp. The next day Williams walloped running back Miguel Maysonet and Tauren Poole in separate drills, putting him among the players who have stood out since the pads have gone on and started popping.

"Vince brings a great deal of emotion and intensity to his work. He has that distinguishing characteristic," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He had it at Florida State and it continues. It's a good thing to build his game around."

Williams started 11 games last season following the loss of Larry Foote, and the sixth-round draft pick made significant progress during his rookie campaign. But he opened offseason practices behind rookie first-round pick Ryan Shazier on the depth chart at weakside inside linebacker, and Shazier has only tightened his grip on Williams' former job.

Williams lacks Shazier's speed and athleticism, two attributes that are vital with offenses increasingly spreading out defenses, but man can he deliver a shot. The Steelers will count on Williams doing that in a reserve role at linebacker as well as on special teams.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. The Steelers have an abundance of talent at inside linebacker a year after they had to start a player who had previously worked as an insurance adjuster for two games at the position. Williams gives them solid depth inside and Sean Spence looks like he will contribute two years after suffering a career-threatening knee injury. The Steelers are so deep at inside linebacker that Terence Garvin, who played 15 games as a rookie last season, will have to battle to make the team. One of the final roster spots could come down to Garvin and rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt.

[+] EnlargeVince Williams
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year linebacker Vince Williams has made an impact during Steelers training camp this summer.
2. Ben Roethlisberger has looked sharp and focused despite talk swirling around him about his contract situation and former teammate Emmanuel Sanders' claim that Peyton Manning is a far better leader than Roethlisberger. Sanders, who is now with the Denver Broncos, might reassess his evaluation if he watched Roethlisberger for a couple of days during training camp. The 11th-year quarterback has been coaching the Steelers' wide receiver as much as he has been throwing to them, barking at them if they run a wrong or sloppy route or drop a ball, but also praising them when they make a good play. He has also stayed after practice to throw to his receivers.

3. The offensive line has a chance to be really good if it can stay relatively healthy. The Steelers already appear to be set with their starting five, and that group can use camp and the preseason games to work together on the new technique and schemes the line is learning from new position coach Mike Munchak. The line, which returns four starters from 2013 as well as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey from a knee injury, has taken to the coaching of Munchak. It has also taken personally that the Steelers averaged just 86.4 rushing yards per game last season. One of the offensive line's goals this season is for the Steelers to rank among the NFL's top 10 teams in rushing.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Running back LeGarrette Blount's on-field behavior has been a little unsettling, and you have to wonder if the raw emotion that he couldn't check when he dived onto Vince Williams during the first fight of camp will resurface if he doesn't get the ball enough during the regular season. Bell is entrenched as the starter and he is clearly the better all-around back then Blount. The Steelers also want to get speedy rookie Dri Archer involved in the running game. How many carries that leaves for Blount remains to be seen. If he becomes unhappy with his role in the offense that could become an issue.

2. Groin injuries haven't become an epidemic but they have been an issue at camp and cost several players valuable practice time. New starting free safety Mike Mitchell, who arrived at camp with a groin injury, has yet to practice and he needs to develop a good on-field rapport with strong safety Troy Polamalu. The two did not practice together much during the offseason since Polamalu skipped the voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and it has to be at least a small concern to the Steelers that they have yet to work together in camp. Jordan Zumwalt also missed significant practice time with a groin injury stunting his development. Zumwalt has a real chance to make the 53-man roster, but after missing OTAs because UCLA's school year hadn't ended, the sixth-round pick needs to get as many repetitions as he can during camp.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Antonio Brown
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAntonio Brown, who caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season, has been a popular target for Ben Roethlisberger during training camp.
3. Roethlisberger seems to be targeting Antonio Brown a lot during 11-on-11 drills, which is understandable considering the latter caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season. But Brown is going to need some help this season to keep defenses from throwing all kind of coverages his way. The reality is that the young wideouts who have looked so promising in camp have yet to prove themselves at this level. The Steelers will probably feel a lot more at ease about their wide receivers if Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown, among others, flash in preseason games instead of just practice.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rookie outside linebacker Howard Jones has helped himself through the early part of camp. Jones, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has stood out during back-on-'backers drills, and last Friday night he twice beat tight end Heath Miller. "He has a chance to be a player," a veteran Steelers player said of Jones.
  • One of the young running backs is going to emerge and make the 53-man roster and my guess is it is either Tauren Poole or Miguel Maysonet. Both have had their moments running the ball, though special teams may be the biggest consideration as far as who the Steelers keep as a fourth running back.
  • Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is making the team. The question is will the Steelers essentially redshirt him during his rookie season by deactivating him for games. The answer at this time last week would have probably been yes. But Bryant has come on after a slow start to camp and the Steelers could badly use a 6-4 wide receiver inside the 20-yard line. Bryant dominated a red zone drill late last week.
  • The Steelers are through the grind of camp. They are off today following six consecutive days of practice, and they will only practice two more times this week before holding a walk through for their first preseason game. After playing the New York Giants on Saturday night, the Steelers will practice four more times at St. Vincent College before breaking camp.

LATROBE, Pa. -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s new contract won’t change the Steelers’ approach to Ben Roethlisberger and that includes their intention to reward their franchise quarterback when the time is right.

Roethlisberger
The Steelers have concluded that is after the season when room under the salary cap isn’t expected to be an issue -- and they can pay Roethlisberger, whose base salary is $12.1 million thie year, top dollar without putting too much strain on the cap.

Roethlisberger turns 33 in March but he is still playing at a high level, and general manager Kevin Colbert said he has never seen the Steelers’ franchise quarterback look better.

“I think he’s had as good a spring as I’ve ever seen him have,” Colbert told ESPN.com on Monday. “I think he’s continued to move that into training camp and right now he’s getting acclimated to the young guys we have at wide receiver and at running back.”

Roethlisberger has been nothing if not engaged when working with the wide receivers, and he has coached them during training camp as much as he has thrown to them.

The Steelers are brimming with talent at wide receiver and there may not be a more intriguing player at the position than rookie Martavis Bryant.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has a unique blend of size and speed, and Bryant has flashed that in recent practices.

He dominated a red zone drill on Saturday. The next day Bryant stretched out to make a sideline catch of a Bruce Gradkowski pass that initially looked like it had been way overthrown.

“He’s faster than what most people think he is,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “He just has a few routes he needs to work on and I’m sure the coaches are going to use his ability.”

Taylor went as far as to say that Bryant has a chance to make an impact similar to what former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace did as a rookie in 2009. Wallace emerged as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver that season and caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns.

“Nobody has Mike Wallace’s speed but as far as having that kind of ability, yes, I do think [Bryant] has that kind of ability,” Taylor said. “When you’ve got a guy who’s 6-4, who can pretty much run with anybody and can jump and catch, that’s a good sign.”
Jerome Bettis defended Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, saying on ESPN's "First Take" that his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate is a good leader with simply a different style from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

"I don't believe that Ben falls short in the leadership department," said Bettis, who won a Super Bowl with Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2005. "You don't win a championship with a lack of leadership."

Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders created a stir Monday when he told KKFM in Denver that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger. Sanders played his first four NFL seasons with Roethlisberger and the Steelers before signing with the Broncos in March.

"This is the first time that I had a quarterback that stays every single day after practice, no matter what his accolades," Sanders told KKFM about Manning. "He's not one of those guys you gotta go chase down. He's gonna be right at the same spot ready to work every single day."

Bettis said Sanders' comments were misguided and "a little disrespectful" to Roethlisberger.

"I think [Sanders] misunderstood what leadership is and he misspoke, and I think it was a little bit of a jab," said Bettis, who is an NFL analyst for ESPN. "I think if he had a chance, he'd take it back. It's not that Ben doesn't lead. He just leads differently than Peyton does."

Sanders took to Twitter on Monday following the ripple effects of his comparison between Manning and Roethlisberger and stood by what he said.


Asked about Roethlisberger's leadership, Bettis said the Steelers quarterback talked him into returning for one more season after Pittsburgh lost to the New England Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.

Bettis won the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him in 2005 before retiring.

"Ben Roethlisberger told me, 'Hey, don't retire. I'm going to get you a championship. Trust me on this,'" Bettis said. "After every playoff game [in 2005], he gave me the game ball. After we won the Super Bowl, he gave me the game ball. That's leadership."

Steelers Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:10
PM ET
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.
  • Martavis Bryant broke inside as a pass sailed over his head during the Steelers’ first practice of training camp. “Don’t come in that way!” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yelled Saturday afternoon to the rookie wide receiver. Roethlisberger proceeded to gesture to Bryant how he should have retraced his steps and run back toward the quarterback instead of cutting toward the middle of the field. No other sequence better epitomized how hands-on Roethlisberger was with a young receiving corps that has to replace two of its top three wideouts from last season. Expect the on-field instruction and dialogue with his receivers to continue during camp and throughout the preseason. “He has full control over the whole team, really, and he doesn’t take that lightly,” veteran tight end Heath Miller said of Roethlisberger. “He takes a lot of pride in that. He’s the unquestionable leader of this team.”
  • The wide receivers looked really good as a group during the first practice. The caveat, of course, is that the Steelers won’t hit or wear pads until Monday. But the wide receivers drew oohs and aahs from fans who watched from the hillsides or the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field. Darrius Heyward-Bey made an over-the-shoulder grab of a Roethlisberger deep ball during a seven-on-seven drill. Justin Brown made a leaping catch of a pass that Roethlisberger delivered with some serious heat. Markus Wheaton made a handful of nice catches. Wheaton and Antonio Brown were the starters at wide receiver when the Steelers went 11-on-11 and Lance Moore was the No. 3 wide receiver.
  • Roethlisberger wore No. 99 for the first part of practice in honor of his former teammate and good friend Brett Keisel. Keisel, who played for Pittsburgh from 2002-13, remains unsigned and is hoping to return to the Steelers. “That’s my boy,” Roethlisberger said. “We were suitemates, he’s been one of my closest friends, been in my wedding. I miss him.” The Steelers could bring Keisel back if it is determined that the defense misses player who started the previous eight seasons at right defensive end. Cameron Heyward played mostly at right defensive end during the Steelers’ first practice. Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Stephon Tuitt all received repetitions with the first-team defense at left defensive end.
  • Coach Mike Tomlin started to address the one injury that occurred during the Steelers’ first practice when he realized he had referred to center/guard David Snow by the wrong name. “I call him Jon Snow because I’m a ‘Game of Thrones’ guy,” Tomlin said of the popular TV series. David Snow suffered an ankle or foot injury on Saturday, though Tomlin said he did not know the extent or severity of the injury. Other than Snow’s injury, Tomlin said, “We got through [practice] pretty clean and I liked the effort.”
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski recently ranked all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is sixth on his list after Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

Roethlisberger
"Jaws" performed his usual exhaustive film review in compiling his list, and he offered strong praise for Roethlisberger as well as an astonishing statistic:
I thought Big Ben had one of his best seasons in 2013. We all know he has a unique skill set, with the ability to be a pocket passer but also extend the play when it's necessary. Ultimately, there are two sets of numbers that stand out to me for Roethlisberger. The first is that he has 156 career starts and has won 67 percent of them. That's astonishing. The second is that veteran quarterbacks understand the necessity of coming away with touchdowns and not field goals in the red zone. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has 27 TDs and zero INTs inside the 20-yard line."


You can debate where Roethlisberger ranks among NFL quarterback but one thing that can't be disputed: Big Ben is the player the Steeler can least afford to lose for an extended period in 2014.

The 11th-year veteran makes the no-huddle attack go and that will again be an important component of the Steelers' offense. Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, is still playing at a high level and he is coming off a season in which he took every snap. Bruce Gradkowski is a capable backup but nothing would help the Steelers more as they try to return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus than if Gradkowski spends most if not all of the upcoming season on the sidelines.

Here are four other players whom the Steelers cannot afford to lose this season.

WR Antonio Brown: The Steelers' wide receivers become average if Brown is sidelined by a significant injury. The reigning Steelers MVP caught 110 passes for a team-record 1,499 yards last season and he will again make the other wideouts better simply because of the attention he commands from opposing defenses.

C Maurkice Pouncey: The Steelers got lucky that Fernando Velasco and later Cody Wallace played so capably at center after Pouncey tore his ACL eight plays into last season. They cannot count on that fortune again if Pouncey goes down. The three-time Pro Bowler is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, and he is eager to reward the Steelers for the lucrative contract extension they gave him last month.

LB Lawrence Timmons: Durable and incredibly productive, Timmons should have at least one Pro Bowl on his resume by now. He will call the defense until rookie Ryan Shazier is ready to assume that responsibility. Simply getting lined up properly proved to be a problem for the defense after Larry Foote went down in the 2013 opener with a season-ending arm injury.

DE Cameron Heyward: The 2011 first-round pick is the one proven commodity that the Steelers have at defensive end. Heyward pushed his way into the starting lineup after the fourth game of last season, and he led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures in 2013 and tied for the team lead with five sacks. To say there is a significant drop-off after Heyward at defensive end is an understatement.

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