NFL Nation: Dri Archer

PITTSBURGH -- During the last week of Steelers’ training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, a golf cart used for the transport of players and coaches around campus pulled up near the cafeteria. Running back LeGarrette Blount surveyed the reporters loitering around the area where players regularly give interviews at camp and said something to the driver.

The golf cart promptly did a U-turn, carrying Blount away from the reporters who he conducted few interviews with during camp.

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Should the Steelers execute the same maneuver with one of their most significant signings of the offseason?

Blount had a checkered past before he and starting running back Le'Veon Bell were pulled over because the Camaro that Bell was driving allegedly had the wrong kind of smoke coming from it.

Blount and Bell will be cited with marijuana possession after they were pulled over a couple of hours before the Steelers flew to Philadelphia for their third preseason game. In the aftermath of the first real incident that the Steelers have to sort through since the start of the preseason it is fair to question why they were able to sign Blount, a running back with a career 4.7 yards per carry average, to a modest two-year, $3.85 million contract in March.

And its fair to ask why Blount, who emerged as New England’s best running back by the end of last season, wasn’t retained by the Patriots.

It's also fair to wonder why Blount is now with his fourth team since entering the NFL in 2010 as an undrafted free agent because he was kicked off Oregon’s team as a senior for punching a Boise State player following a season-opening loss.

Blount is immensely talented, and the addition of the 6-foot, 250-pound thumper and the drafting of the ultra-fast Dri Archer makes running back one of the positions where the Steelers have upgraded themselves the most following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Bell, who broke Franco Harris’ record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie (1,259) in 2013, and Blount have been inseparable since they became teammates. That augured well for the time-sharing agreement the Steelers have planned for them in the backfield.

Now, it is worth wondering if the Steelers have to separate the two for the good of Bell, though the second-year man should in no way be absolved following an incident that appears to be as selfish as it was stupid.

The Steelers have little behind Bell and Blount with the diminutive Archer splitting time between running back and wide receiver -- and no other back emerging that the Steelers can count on to revive a ground attack that averaged just 86.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Now more questions have been raised about the Steelers’ run game -- and whether the Bell-Blount pairing that looked so good before a dual moment of idiocy is worth it.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Well I never thought I would hear it but Heath Miller -- better known as "Heeeaaath" to the legion of Pittsburgh Steelers fans who shout that any time he makes a catch, even during a training camp practice -- actually made a guarantee on Monday.

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsVeteran members of the Steelers, including Heath Miller, are excited for what rookie draft pick Dri Archer (No. 13) will bring to the team.
First, a little background on the veteran tight end: he is unfailingly accommodating to the media but his quotes are generally bland. Miller is many things; sustenance for a voracious news cycle is not one of them.

His understated nature gives even more credence to what Miller said about rookie Dri Archer, the Steelers' blur of a running back/wide receiver/return specialist.

"I guarantee you when he is out there the next time they're going to know who No. 13 is and where he's lining up and pay extra attention to him," Miller said at St. Vincent College. "It can be good for all of us. He can help our offense."

It took all of three plays in the Steelers' first preseason game for Archer to blow his cover.

Catching a short pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a bubble screen, Archer darted across the field and turned the corner with a host of New York Giants chasing him in vain. Archer gained 46 yards on the play, setting up an early field goal, and the 5-8, 173-pounder might have scored had he simply tried to run past Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara instead of first feigning an inside cut.

"I gave him trouble," Miller said with a laugh about Archer getting tackled by Amukamara. "I thought he should have scored."

Archer, the fastest Steelers' player, should get more chances to redeem himself.

Pittsburgh will try to get its third-round pick the ball in space as much as possible if its 20-16 loss to the Giants last Saturday night is any indication.

Archer served as the Steelers' primary kickoff and punt returner and also caught two passes for 50 yards against the Giants. He admittedly should have scored on the electrifying catch and run that still went down as the Steelers' longest play of the game.

"I made a mistake," Archer said. "I should have kept running straight."

Archer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in February, and his speed and cut-back ability has been on display since the Steelers started training camp. Miller, having seen Archer practice in pads for two weeks, was not surprised that he broke a big play early against the Giants.

Nor did it faze Miller where he was on the field as the play unfolded.

"I was chasing him," Miller said.

He won't be the last one to do that.
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: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
12:00
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The Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) and New York Giants (0-0) open the preseason Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.

1. The 2014 draft class: The rookies are brimming with promise and a handful of them should help right away. Coach Mike Tomlin and his assistants get their first look at the players in a live game who collectively are a key to the Steelers rebounding from consecutive 8-8 seasons. First-round pick Ryan Shazier is unlikely to play after missing three consecutive practices because of the right knee injury that Tomlin has called a “boo boo.” Even if the ailment is a minor one, the Steelers would be crazy to take anything but a cautious approach with the inside linebacker. Second-round pick Stephon Tuitt has created as much of a buzz at training camp as Shazier. He is likely to start at left defensive end. It will be interesting to see the different ways in which the Steelers deploy third-round pick Dri Archer, a running back/wide receiver/return specialist, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round pick, has made his share of plays in practice. Now it’s time to see if the 6-foot-4, 211-pound speedster can transfer that to a game.

2. Justin Brown: Tomlin almost always sidesteps questions such as the one posed to him Thursday when the eighth-year coach was asked if any players have surprised him during camp. He mostly spoke in generalities but did mention Brown specifically. That added more confirmation that few, if any, players on the Steelers' roster have improved more since last season than Brown. The 2013 sixth-round pick spent all of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad but he stood out during offseason practices and has continued his strong play in camp. Brown has already displayed toughness, returning to practice one day after undergoing surgery to fix a broken nose. Tonight he gets to show how much he has improved in a game. Brown has the inside track to a roster spot at a crowded position but it is early. He will have to produce in preseason games to hold off players such as Derek Moye and Darrius Heyward-Bey if the Steelers keep only five wide receivers.

3. The long shots: A handful of undrafted free agents and players who signed futures contracts have flashed during camp. They include safety Jordan Dangerfield, guard/center Chris Elkins and outside linebacker Howard Jones. They will receive extensive playing time with the starters expected to receive only a limited number of snaps. I’m especially looking forward to watching Jones, who signed with the Steelers in May after starring at Shepherd University, a Division II school in West Virginia. He has played well in camp and may have the easiest path to the 53-man roster since the Steelers are not especially deep at outside linebacker.
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.

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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."
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.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
7:15
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LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The offense and defense battled to a draw in one of the most anticipated drills of training camp. The offense scored three touchdowns in six attempts from the 1-yard line in the goal-line drill. Ben Roethlisberger threw an easy touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth off play-action to start the drill. The play call didn’t sit well with the defense and might have contributed to cornerback Ike Taylor and LeGarrette Blount later jawing at each other from across the field. Tauren Poole and Josh Harris each scored on 1-yard runs, but the defense held its own, stopping three runs other short of the end zone. Inside linebacker Vince Williams blew up Poole short of the end zone, putting an exclamation on an impressive day. Williams had delivered a monster hit earlier in practice when he obliterated running back Miguel Maysonet in an 11-on-11 drill.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant had his best practice of training camp. The fourth-round draft pick made a handful of difficult catches. None were more impressive than when Bryant twisted his body while on the run to catch a Bruce Gradkowski pass that had sailed behind the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Bryant in the end zone. “He’s a big, so we expect him to consistently make big-guy plays,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Bryant. "I’m interested in him developing a complete game.”
  • Tempers flared again a day after the first fight of training camp broke out and nearly turned into a brawl. Outside linebacker Chris Carter and left tackle Kelvin Beachum had to be separated at the end of one play during a red-zone drill. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo went at it during goal-line drills and punches were thrown before the two were separated.
  • Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey missed his second consecutive practice after sustaining a concussion last Thursday and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt remains out with groin tightness. Tomlin gave tight end Heath Miller and nose tackle Steve McLendon the day off in part so he could look at some of the younger players at those positions. Safety Mike Mitchell did some work, Tomlin said, and he might be close to returning. Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Steelers in March, has been on the physically unable to perform list since reporting to camp with a groin injury.
  • Rookie running back Dri Archer showcased his speed in one-on-one passing drills. Matched up several times against Lawrence Timmons, Archer made an over-the-shoulder catch after separating from Timmons on a wheel route. Earlier in the drill, Archer caught a pass in front of Timmons, stopped and then ran right past him.
  • The Steelers practice Sunday and Monday from 2:55 to 5:30 p.m. ET. The players are off on Tuesday and practice will resume on Wednesday.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
7:15
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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 -- He still uses his GPS to make his way around Pittsburgh, but rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier didn’t need nearly as much navigational assistance when he was on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice fields in late May and June.

Shazier started alongside Lawrence Timmons from the outset of offseason practices, and he looked anything but lost despite learning a new defense on the run.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesRookie linebacker Ryan Shazier was a star in minicamp, but will his progress continue when the pads come on?
“He understands concepts very well,” linebackers coach Keith Butler said of the Steelers’ first-round draft pick. “He reminds me a lot of Larry Foote in terms of football intelligence, and he’s a very sharp guy.”

Not that Shazier will be exempt from the requisite rookie growing pains. Or that Butler wouldn’t prefer the Steelers easing the former Ohio State All-American into the NFL.

That is not an option in large part because Shazier’s speed and playmaking ability are both badly needed on a defense that slipped appreciably last season. Shazier, the Steelers’ most significant addition during the offseason, made it look easy at times during offseason practices. He turned in a couple of breathtaking plays, including a leaping interception of a pass that backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski thought he could throw over Shazier in the middle of the field.

The caveat with how good Shazier has looked: the 6-1, 237-pounder has only practiced with the Steelers in shorts. That changes Monday, when the Steelers don the pads at training camp following two non-contact practices.

If Shazier makes the same kind of progress at camp as he did during offseason drills he will start Sept. 7 in the season opener against the visiting Browns.

Here are the four other significant additions that the Steelers made during the offseason.

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Steelers have too often fielded suspect offensive lines under coach Mike Tomlin, though constant injuries up front haven’t helped. A line that came together in the second half of last season will start a pair of former first-round draft picks and two second-round selections. Nobody is more qualified to bring the group together then Munchak. There are no excuses this season -- unless mass injuries consistently scramble the line.

S Mike Mitchell. As with Shazier, the Steelers added speed and a playmaker when they signed Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract in March. They badly needed both elements on the back end of their defense, and Mitchell will be a significant upgrade over Ryan Clark at free safety. He has aspirations of becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL, and the Steelers would love to see Mitchell achieve that goal in Pittsburgh.

RB/WR Dri Archer. The Steelers added a bolt of lightning to their offense when they drafted the ultra-fast Archer in the third round. He will return kickoffs and could allow the Steelers to relieve Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown of his duties as the primary punt returner. Archer’s speed and versatility gives offensive coordinator Todd Haley the kind of player he can use to exploit mismatches. If Archer is Chris Rainey 2.0 the Steelers will be more than happy with the investment they have made in the former Kent State star.

OLB Arthur Moats. The former Buffalo Bill has starting experience and versatility and gives the Steelers a promising option should there be injuries or ineffective play at outside linebacker. Moats can also play inside, though the Steelers are pretty deep there, and he is expected to establish himself as a core special-teams player. The importance of depth in the NFL can't be overstated, and the Steelers improved themselves in that area with the signing of Moats.

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation’s Scott Brown examines the three biggest issues facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp:

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

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

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag. If you have a Steelers' question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail. And away we go ... @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Le'Veon Bell could get 300-plus carries this season but not much more than that even if he plays every game. The Steelers say they are committed to running the ball this season, and I don't think that's just lip service from offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. However, I doubt that the Steelers lean as heavily on Bell as they did last season because of the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. Bell will start at running back but the other two will get touches as well. I like that approach because I think it will extend the number of productive seasons Bell has in the NFL. That's probably not good news for fantasy football owners who covet Bell, but he will still be a prominent part of the offense and the Steelers will put his receiving skills to good use too. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think he will because I expect Mike Adams, who may be the Steelers' most physically gifted offensive tackle, to benefit as much as anyone from offensive line coach Mike Munchak's tutelage. Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert got most of the first-team snaps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, but the real competition along both the offensive and defensive line won't start until training camp. Adams has said he wants the opportunity to start whether it is at right or left tackle and I'd like to see the Steelers give him a shot at unseating Gilbert. I thought Adams played well at right tackle when he made six starts there as a rookie and he could be the future there if the Steelers don't sign Gilbert to a long-term contract before the start of the regular season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: Still pretty quiet on that front but I think the Steelers will re-sign Brett Keisel though it might not be until right before the start of training camp. He would be a terrific mentor for second-round pick Stephon Tuitt and Keisel's presence would allow the Steelers to bring Tuitt along slowly. I agree too that Keisel still has something left, and he could play in a rotation with Cam Thomas and Tuitt with the limited snaps keeping him fresh throughout the season. I know the Steelers are committed to getting younger on defense but Keisel would contribute both on and off the field. I think if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has his way Keisel will be back for one more season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Cortez Allen gets a new contract and that the Steelers let Marcus Gilbert play out the final year of his rookie deal. Allen is the only long-term starting cornerback on the roster right now and the Steelers can't afford to lose him. I think the two sides can reach a deal that is good for both and ensures that Allen is a Steeler well beyond the 2014 season. As for Gilbert, I just haven't seen enough from the former second-round pick to warrant the Steelers locking him up with a long-term deal. Much like outside linebacker Jason Worilds, I think the Steelers want to see more from Gilbert and will take their chances on getting a deal done after the season if he fits into the team's long-term plans. If Gilbert walks after the 2014 season the Steelers have Mike Adams to plug in at right tackle. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I believe that is the case since players are allowed in the building during the span that bridges the end of a season and the start of the team's offseason program. It would make sense too for the coaches to be available to rookies or first-year players who may have questions about the playbook. That availability, however, is limited in the sense that coaches take lengthy vacations not long after the conclusion of offseason practices since it is really the only extended break from football they will get all year. The building is mostly empty too since a lot of players travel somewhere to continue working out, often ratcheting up their training regimen to get ready for camp.
PITTSBURGH -- The offense and defense traded big plays Wednesday in the Pittsburgh Steelers' second minicamp practice of the week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it is only June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keisel
Keisel
Revealing during an interview is not one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned on this front.

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

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