NFL Nation: Heath Miller

PITTSBURGH -- With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back at practice, the Pittsburgh Steelers worked extensively on their no-huddle offense Wednesday.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger missed the Steelers' first organized team activity of the week because of a family obligation but he got plenty of work Wednesday, especially at the end of the team's fifth full-squad offseason practice.

"That last period here today we stayed on the field the whole time and got a bunch of different looks and a bunch of different plays," wide receiver Lance Moore said of the Steelers running their no-huddle offense. "Ben is like a playbook on the field and he's going to run pretty much everything we have out there and try to keep the defense off balance."

Roethlisberger and the Steelers did that routinely in the second half of last season after the no-huddle attack became a big part of the offense. The no-huddle should continue to be a focal point of the offseason practices that conclude in a couple of weeks since Roethlisberger is trying to establish a rapport with new players such as Moore and inexperienced ones like Markus Wheaton.

"He's obviously very comfortable with the no-huddle and he always has been," tight end Heath Miller said of Roethlisberger. "Ben likes to make the calls with the balls in his hand and I think we can be good at it if we're all on the same page. We're getting a lot of good work in with it and I think we're only going to continue to."

Also of note from the Steelers' fifth OTA session:
  • Arthur Moats continued work with the first team at left outside linebacker with Jason Worilds nursing a calf injury. Worilds, who has practiced just one day since OTAs started, was not on the field Wednesday. Meanwhile, starting fullback Will Johnson is in a walking boot after getting hurt Tuesday.
  • The Steelers signed wide receiver C.J. Goodwin on Wednesday and released wide receiver Jasper Collins. Goodwin has several local ties. He played his final season of college football at nearby California University and the Steelers gave Goodwin a tryout following a recommendation from Mel Blount, one of the greatest players in franchise history.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Daniel McCullers isn't just immense to the scribes and other media types who cover the Steelers. "He's huge," said 6-5, 288-pound defensive end Cameron Heyward. "He's like Paul Bunyan." McCullers, who is listed at 6-7, 352 pounds is not overweight as much as he is simply a big man. McCullers said after practice Wednesday that he has been playing exclusively at nose tackle during OTAs.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers start another round of organized team activities today.

That means three more full-squad practices this week.

And a leap of faith.

The Dallas Cowboys lost arguably their best defensive player for the 2014 season last week when linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL. The grim reality that OTAs are fraught with as much risk as they are reward was reinforced by another in a string of unfortunate injuries for Lee.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMike Tomlin has advised his players to play hard but smart and to stay off the ground during OTAs.
Not coincidentally coach Mike Tomlin addressed the specter of injury before the Steelers' second OTA last Wednesday, a day after Lee got hurt.

"He told us we don't have pads on so we don't need to be on the ground, we don't need to be bull rushing each other and stuff like that," outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "Use your hands, run to the ball and keep it clean."

The Steelers could have suffered something similar to the deflating loss the Cowboys are dealing with during their first voluntary practice a week ago.

Center Maurkice Pouncey, practicing for the first time since tearing his ACL last September, locked onto rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier during a running play. Pouncey drove Shazier back before the Steelers' first-round draft pick threw off the block and sent Pouncey sprawling to the grass.

Pouncey bounced up immediately and told Shazier, in so many words, to chill. But that play could have turned into another cautionary tale about OTAs had Pouncey reinjured his rebuilt right knee or accidentally taken out a teammate when he fell to the ground.

"Sometimes when guys get pulled to the ground or fall to the ground other guys around you are going to trip over you," veteran tight end Heath Miller said. "You want to try and control what you can control but at the same time there's certain things that are out of your hands."

The collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in 2011 minimized the risk of OTAs by limiting the number of voluntary practices that teams are allowed to stage. Teams are only permitted 10 OTAs as well as one mandatory minicamp, though they are still allowed extra practices if they have a new head coach.

OTAs serve a purpose even if injuries sustained during the practices are magnified and seemingly senseless. They give the players a chance to practice together during the offseason and are particularly helpful to free-agent signees and rookies who are learning a new system.

And, to be fair, players can get injured working out on their own. They can also just as easily blow out a knee in a non-contact situation as they can while locked up with another player or getting tangled up in a pile of bodies.

Tomlin, as other coaches around the NFL do, regularly emphasizes the importance of playing hard but also smart during OTAs. He also reinforces an important message when it comes to the voluntary practices.

"You can't make the team right now is what he says, which is true," left guard Ramon Foster said. "He gives us rules. There will be no fighting out here, no jersey pulling. Protect our guys. We try to keep the guys off the ground."

Players are inevitably going to hit the ground given how fast the game is even with the participants only wearing a helmet, jersey and shorts and not engaging in contact drills.

That is why there is an element of luck when it comes to OTAs as well as a leap of faith by everyone involved in them.

"You start thinking about (getting hurt) and you start playing slow and you can't be yourself, you can't make plays," Jones said. "You start playing slow and now you're getting in other people's way and that could create injuries. If it happens, it happens, you've just got to deal with it. Hopefully all of us can stay healthy throughout these practices."
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.”
PITTSBURGH – As understated as he is perhaps underrated, Heath Miller is as likely to make a bold prediction as he is to dance in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.

The Steelers tight end did say something interesting on why he expects to play better in 2014 than he did last season -- when Miller was less than a year removed from tearing his ACL.

[+] EnlargeHeath Miller
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicAfter recovering from a knee injury during 2013, Heath Miller is working hard this offseason to help power Pittsburgh's offense.
“I should be able to put more preparation in, should be able to work like I’m used to working,” Miller said Thursday following the Steelers’ final OTA of the week. “Last year was about trying to find a new normal for myself and I’m a creature of habit, so that wasn’t easy for me. I’m fully confident by the time the season rolls around I’m going to be feeling much better than the start of last year just from a confidence perspective.”

Such talk, while hardly bravado, should add to the optimism about an offense that came into its own in the second half of last season. The Steelers averaged more than 28 points in their final nine games, and they did so with Miller contributing in all phases of the offense but not playing as big a role in the passing attack as he had in previous seasons.

That is anything but a knock on the ninth-year veteran.

Miller, after all, missed just two games in 2013 and returned to the playing field roughly nine months after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

He caught 58 passes for 593 yards and a touchdown, but Miller wasn’t the same player who established career highs in receiving yards (816) and touchdown catches (eight) the previous season.

Miller attributed that to the recovery from the knee injury limiting his preparation leading up to games.

“I was constantly trying to find the right balance of how much to work, how much to take off, what type of rehab is good, what type of rehab is too much,” said Miller, whose teammates voted him Steelers MVP in 2012.

Such trial and error is largely behind Miller, who practiced all three days this week after watching OTAs last year because he had just started to run again.

Miller may have a new normal but the Steelers would love nothing more than if one of the most consistent players and personalities on their team can return to his old self.

Miller had arguably been the best all-around tight end in the NFL before getting hurt.

The 6-foot-5, 256-pounder should approach that level again since he is able to take part in offseason practices and in training camp in preparation for the 2014 season.

“I expect to be better than last year,” Miller said.

The Steelers would gladly take that.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger confirmed two things Tuesday during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.

Cotchery
Roethlisberger
One, the Steelers weren’t expecting to lose wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery to free agency. Two, the Steelers will miss Cotchery, and not just because the seasoned veteran caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes in 2013.

“J Co, along with Heath Miller, was one of the best teammates that I’ve ever played with in any sport,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t see us losing him so it made it a little tougher when you’re not expecting someone to go. But he has to do what was best for his family just like everyone else that we’ve lost.”

Cotchery appeared as likely as any of the unrestricted free agents to re-sign with the Steelers after he thrived as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver in 2013.

But the Carolina Panthers offered him a two-year, $5 million contract after their wide receivers corps got raided, and that proved to be more than what the Steelers were willing to pay to keep Cotchery in Pittsburgh.

Shortly after Cotchery joined the Panthers, the Steelers signed former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore to a two-year, $3 million contract.

The Steelers are expected to draft a wide receiver later this week, perhaps as early as the first round.

General manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week that the Steelers are pleased with what they have been able to accomplish in free agency despite some of the players they have lost.

“We went into the offseason with a specific plan in mind,” Colbert said, “and I think to a large degree that plan unfolded as we expected it to and we were happy with the way it did.”
PITTSBURGH -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay will critique draft picks that are made in less than a week. The ESPN analysts took their own respective turns in the hot seat Thursday night on ESPN2.

Ebron
The two engaged in a head-to-head, three-round mock draft with Kiper picking for teams with even-numbered draft picks and McShay picking for those with odd-numbered picks. Their selections were followed by analysis from former NFL general manager Bill Polian and former NFL director of pro personnel Louis Riddick.

And Polian didn't opt for subtlety after McShay picked North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron for the Steelers at No. 15 overall.

"He's a Pittsburgh Steeler and he doesn't block. That doesn't compute," Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, said of Ebron. "I don't think he's ready to play in the NFL right now. I think he's too immature. I don't think his feet are firmly planted on the ground. Yeah, he has ability but that only gets you so far."

Ebron may be one of the more polarizing players in the draft.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is the best tight end in the draft and an undeniable talent. Ebron, who caught 62 passes for 973 yards in his final season at North Carolina, has the size and athleticism to create mismatches.

And he is part of the new wave of tight ends who have become such a commodity because of their ability to put stress on opposing defenses.

Ebron would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a tall target, and he would add a pass-catcher to a group that doesn't have a reliable one after veteran Heath Miller.

But as a blocker he can most diplomatically be described as a work in progress.

Or, as McShay said recently, “He’s a buffet blocker if you will. He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested. But what he does well it’s just hard to find guys that can do it at the level that he does as far as stretching the field vertically and creating after the catch.”

Ebron may be too much of a gamble for the Steelers to pick at No. 15, especially since they have more pressing needs. McShay picked him for the Steelers with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard off the board though with every other cornerback still available.

Riddick said he would have taken a cornerback for the Steelers, and he is especially high on Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. Polian added of Ebron, "I would not risk this guy in a Pittsburgh offense that requires you to block."

As for the Steelers' other two picks, Kiper took LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry for them in the second round (No. 46 overall). McShay picked Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland for the Steelers in the third round (No. 97 overall).
PITTSBURGH -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron
Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers won six of their final eight games last season in large part because the offense thrived with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger running a no-huddle attack.

The Steelers only lose one starter from that group – they didn’t show much interest in re-signing wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders – and they effectively add a Pro Bowler to the mix assuming center Maurkice Pouncey returns from the torn ACL he sustained in the 2013 season opener.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesWith Ben Roethlisberger leading a no-huddle attack, the Steelers' offense sizzled during the second half of the 2013 season.
The offense appears poised to drive a team that is retooling its defense, and a strong finish in 2013 bodes well for it carrying the Steelers back to the playoffs.

Then there is Mike Tomlin on the assumption that the offense will pick up where it left off last season when the Steelers averaged 28.2 points in their final nine games.

“I think that if that’s your mentality, you set yourself up for failure,” the seventh-year coach said at the NFL owners meetings. “I think that each year stands on its own. We have some quality guys that grew together in the latter parts of 2013, but I am not going to assume that means in anything in regards to 2014. I just think that’s the appropriate mentality to take.”

Indeed, as well as the offense played in the second half of last season it hasn’t been immune to change.

Along with Sanders the Steelers lost wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, and the two combined to catch 16 of Roethlisberger’s 28 touchdown passes last season.

Will Lance Moore provide Roethlisberger with a reliable, productive No. 3 wide receiver as Cotchery did last season? Is Markus Wheaton, who has all of six career receptions, ready to take over for Sanders and start?

There are other questions, such as whether running back Le’Veon Bell will build on a stellar rookie season, and injuries are always an X factor. The Steelers’ offensive line has been consistently scrambled by injuries and there is no way to foretell how they will impact that unit in 2014.

That is not to say there isn’t a lot to like about the Steelers’ offense.

Roethlisberger always gives the Steelers a chance to win and he played every snap last season. Tight end Heath Miller will be better almost two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. And new offensive line coach Mike Munchak could prove to be the Steelers’ most significant offseason addition given his body of work and the respect he will command from his new players.

So was Tomlin just trying to downplay expectations for the offense or just simply being a downer when he refused to buy into any hype surrounding the unit?

Not necessarily.

What looks good on paper does not always translate to success on the field, and Tomlin is nothing if not a realist.

“What we were able to do in terms of finding traction down the stretch was significant in 2013,” Tomlin said, “but I am not going to assume that it means anything in 2014, to be honest with you.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers announced the re-signings of safety Will Allen and long snapper Greg Warren on Wednesday morning with each agreeing to one-year contracts.

Neither is the kind of move that elicits much more than a collective yawn from the Steelers’ fan base, but the signings are significant.

Allen provides depth in the secondary as well as competition for second-year man Shamarko Thomas for the position of safety in the Steelers’ sub-packages.

Allen thrived as the safety in the quarter package after re-signing with the Steelers last October. In the process the 10th-year vereran showed that he can still play after getting released by the Cowboys.

The key with Allen is that he is also a core special-teams player so even if Thomas wins the competition for safety in the Steelers’ sub-packages Allen can still contribute.

Warren will return for a 10th season and the best thing you can say about him is that you never hear his name. Nothing could be better for a long snapper whose anonymity is crucial to his job security.

The Steelers signed long snapper Bryce Davis to compete with Warren. But the latter has become so used to fending off challenges for his position that there is no reason to think he won’t be snapping for the Steelers in 2014.

Warren is one of just five players on the roster who were part of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams in 2005 and 2008.

The others are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and tight end Heath Miller.
The Steelers had been quiet the past couple of weeks.

Then they slapped the transition tag on outside linebacker Jason Worilds Monday afternoon, just ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline to tag players. There has been a steady stream of activity since then, starting with Worilds signing the one-year, $9.754 million contract that came with the transition tag.

In the past two days the Steelers have signed four players -- they had yet to announce the Will Allen signing as of early Thursday morning -- and released three, including veteran linebacker Larry Foote.

Forget the first week of free agency -- players are allowed to start signing with new teams Tuesday at 4 p.m. -- when the NFL is abuzz with visits and player movement. The busy time for the Steelers when it comes to turning over and shaping their roster is often the week leading up to the start of free agency, and this year is no exception.

The Steelers already have made a flurry of moves, and more are coming as they try to clear enough room under the salary cap -- it will be $133 million in 2014 -- to sign free agents as well as their draft picks.

They are off to a good start as they have retained strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller as well as their top pending free agent (Worilds) without compromising the core of their team or their finances.

The Steelers, according to ESPN's Roster Management System, are a shade over $133 million in regard to the salary cap, though that total doesn’t include Allen’s new deal because Pittsburgh has yet to make that official.

Allen likely signed for the veteran’s minimum ($955,000), a figure that can be reduced to a cap hit of $570,000 plus his signing bonus if it is a one-year contract and the bonus does not exceed $65,000.

However the numbers are crunched, the Steelers are almost in compliance with the 2014 salary cap, and they have gotten to that point without having to make any really tough cuts. More difficult decisions loom as they clear room under the 2014 cap, but so far, so good for the Steelers.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay will be unveiling his third mock draft later today.

Here are links to a couple of more mock drafts. Both Pete Prisco of CBS Sports and Doug Farrar of SI.com have the Steelers addressing the secondary with their first-round pick in May.

General manager Kevin Colbert said recently that rebuilding will never be acceptable to the Steelers.

The organization has provided more than lip service to that credo after a quiet couple of weeks.

The Steelers, who are trying to rebound from consecutive 8-8 seasons, have added and subtracted from their salary cap in the last two days. In the process, they have kept their financial situation tenable while also keeping franchise cornerstones in Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, along with one of their best young defensive players in Jason Worilds.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the Steelers saved $4.5 million in salary cap money in 2014 with the three-year, $20 million contract that Polamalu signed.

Assuming they got a similar salary-cap return on the three-year contract that Miller also signed Wednesday, then those two deals essentially offset the one-year, $9.75 million contract that Worilds signed Tuesday, a day after the Steelers slapped a transition tag on the fourth-year veteran.

If that is the case, the Steelers are only around $5.5 million over the cap, and they have until Tuesday to get in compliance with the 2014 spending ceiling.

That is a small figure, especially considering the Steelers can easily get under the cap with a couple of moves.

They will clear $6.25 million in cap room by releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown, who got hurt before playing a down for the Steelers following an in-season trade. They can save $7 million by releasing Ike Taylor or getting the veteran cornerback to accept a significant paycut.

There are several other contracts that can be restructured, and more salary-cap savings can be generated by signing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract.

The Steelers’ salary-cap situation is frequently portrayed as dire. But in the last two days, they have kept their top free agent from hitting the open market next week, while also retaining two veterans who are still vital players for them.

They still have a salary-cap situation that is more than manageable with time and flexibility to get under the 2014 spending limit.

Salary-cap woes?

Not so much for the Steelers.
Jason Worilds is celebrating his 26th birthday Monday and getting no shortage of love -- or pleas to stay in Pittsburgh -- from Steelers fans via Twitter.

Worilds
Worilds' gift may be a little belated but the outside linebacker will receive one in the form of a big pay day.

Worilds is one of the top pass rushers eligible for free agency March 11, and his position could improve markedly by later this afternoon.

The Redskins will use the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo if they are unable to sign the outside linebacker to a long-team deal before 4 p.m., according to ESPN's Ed Werder.

However the Redskins prevent Orakpo from hitting the open market next week as an unrestricted free agent, his status will enhance Worilds' value because of simple supply and demand.

The Steelers should have more sense of urgency on that front because if they don't re-sign Worilds before March 11 it's hard to imagine the fourth-year veteran returning to Pittsburgh.

Remember, all it takes is one team to overpay in free agency, as the Browns did last year when they signed outside linebacker Paul Kruger to a five-year, $40 million contract.

Considering the dearth of pass rushers who are poised to hit the open market -- the Panthers signed Greg Hardy to a long-term deal last week and Orakpo looks like he will stay with the Redskins -- Worilds has positioned himself for a big contract.

Whether it comes from the Steelers or another team remains to be seen.

The Steelers are in the process of getting in compliance with the salary cap as well as clearing enough room under it to sign priority free agents such as Worilds.

According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Steelers and tight end Heath Miller have agreed to a new deal that would lower Miller's cap hit of $9.47 million in 2014.

Since nine-year veteran Miller is going into the final year of his contact, he and the Steelers have presumably agreed to a contract extension.
PITTSBURGH -- On the same day Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers have told Ben Roethlisberger they plan to draft a tall wide receiver early, general manager Kevin Colbert offered this nugget in regard to the franchise quarterback.

“What we have to do is surround [Roethlisberger] with the best talent,” Colbert said on Wednesday, “and he has to play to that level that he’s capable of playing if we do get that talent around him.”

Colbert’s response was parsed and part of a larger answer to his acknowledgement that Big Ben isn’t getting any younger. But it signaled that the Steelers plan to go all-in with Roethlisberger, who turns 32 next month, and give him every chance of getting the organization back to the Super Bowl.

That, taken with what Dulac reported during an online chat, points to the Steelers providing Roethlisberger with the tall wide receiver he has long coveted – and hasn’t had since his rookie season in 2004.

Think about it.

The offense, unlike a defense in transition, is already largely in place for 2014.

Pro Bowler Antonio Brown returns after authoring the greatest season by a Steelers wide receiver. Le’Veon Bell has established himself as a feature back with plenty of upside after a robust rookie season. Tight end Heath Miller, solid in 2013, will be even better next season when he isn’t coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.

Colbert could have been referring to the offensive line when talking about the need to surround Roethlisberger with top talent. But the line returns intact after making significant improvement in the second half of last season, and it will get better under the watchful eye of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Kelvin Beachum may not be a prototypical left tackle but he proved to be more than capable there after supplanting Mike Adams following the fourth game of the season. And the second-year man provided enough of a sample size for the Steelers to think he can hold his own protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side while also continuing to get better.

The obvious missing piece on offense is a rangy wide receiver, and the Steelers may not get a better chance to provide Roethlisberger with one while he is still in his prime.

The draft that Colbert said is as deep as any he has seen in 30 years is particularly flush with wide receivers. There are tall ones such as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- each is listed as at least 6-foot-5 -- and there also appears to be a handful in the 6-2, 6-3 range who could be early-round selections.

Whether that means the Steelers draft a tall wide receiver in the first or second round remains to be seen. Colbert insists that the Steelers stick to their draft board and that talent always trumps need when they are making their picks.

The Steelers can’t know how things will shake out during the pre-draft evaluations that shift into another gear next week at the NFL combine.

Or how the actual draft in May plays out.

But if the Steelers are intent on taking advantage of every snap that Roethlisberger has left at wide receiver at No. 15 overall is very much in play despite the more pressing needs they have on defense.

Steelers left to ponder what ifs

December, 29, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Add Ryan Succop's missed field goal to the plays the Steelers will look at wistfully when they reflect on the 2013 season.

Succop, who kicks for the Chiefs, missed a 41-yard field goal Sunday night that would have beaten the Chargers and sent the Steelers to the playoffs.

The Chargers got a field goal of their own in overtime and held on to beat the Chiefs, 27-24, in San Diego -- officially ending the Steelers' season.

Succop missed by mere inches with the score tied near the end of regulation, and the Steelers' playoff fate was decided by a game played on the other side of the country.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Ryan Succop
AP Photo/Denis PoroyHad Ryan Succop's 41-yard field goal attempt gone through the uprights, the Steelers would be heading to the playoffs.
The Steelers almost did the unthinkable by sneaking into the playoffs with an 8-8 record following an 0-4 start.

They needed eight things to break their way in the final two weeks of the season, including wins against Cincinnati and at Green Bay. Seven of them happened setting the stage for the Chiefs-Chargers game, which kicked off less than half an hour after the Steelers beat the Browns, 20-7, at soggy Heinz Field.

The Chiefs rested a lot of their key starters but never trailed the Chargers until overtime.

The improbable finish in that game brought a fitting close to a Steelers season that defied convention, consistency and any sort of script.

They rallied from their worst start since 1968 to win eight of their final 12 games but they also had a handful of bad losses, including ones at Oakland and to the Vikings in London.

What will hurt most is the Steelers know they would have been a tough out in the playoffs even if their first game would have been in Cincinnati where the Bengals have yet to lose this season.

Their offense had taken off after offensive coordinator Todd Haley lifted the reins from the no-huddle attack. A defense prone to giving up big plays had shored up that part of its game in recent weeks. Everything seemed to come together at about the same time the Steelers almost overcame odds that were longer than all three of Pittsburgh's rivers combined.

The Steelers won't take that momentum into the playoffs but their finish is something that could carry over, especially with most of the key players on offense returning in 2014.

"To be able to play some good football down the stretch for everybody to get a feel for how that should feel I think could be something to build off of," veteran tight end Heath Miller said.

As for what the Steelers turnaround from a nightmarish start revealed about their locker room, Miller said, "It should show that we believe in each other and stick together and I think that's a credit to the guys in here. When things aren't going well it's easy to point the finger or try to place blame on people but I think collectively we kept working on at and eventually we started to figure things out."

The Steelers didn't figure it out in enough time to save their season, but they came awfully close to making the playoffs after getting left for dead several times before the Chargers finally outlasted the Chiefs.

"This team fighting back, 6-2 in the second half, it's pretty cool," defensive end Brett Keisel said, "and I'm proud to be a part of it."

Emmanuel Sanders a game-time decision

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
2:15
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders practiced Friday and will be a game-time decision Sunday in what could be his final contest with the Steelers.

Sanders
Sanders (knee) and outside linebacker Jason Worilds (abdomen) are listed as questionable for the 1 p.m. ET game against the visiting Browns. Linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for the regular-season finale at Heinz Field.

Worilds practiced on a limited basis Friday while Sanders was listed as a full participant in drills.

“Right now I’m 50-50,” said Sanders, who sprained his knee last Sunday while making a cut on the muddy turf at Lambeau Field. “I practiced today and the pain was bearable.”

Sanders said he will play Sunday if he can’t make the injury any worse.

“I’ve always played through injuries no matter what,” said Sanders, who has played in every game this season and caught 65 passes for 714 yards and six touchdowns. “I’m not going to hold anything back, and that’s always been my mentality.

Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and he is among a handful of Steelers players who face an uncertain future.

In addition to Sanders, right guard David DeCastro (back) practiced on Friday after missing drills the previous day. DeCastro said his back won’t limit him against the Browns, who will be without starting nose tackle Phil Taylor (concussion).

"Back's fine," DeCastro said. “I’m good to go."

DeCastro, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (illness), wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger), safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller are all listed as probable for Sunday.

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