NFL Nation: LeGarrette Blount

Steelers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
7:15
PM ET
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.
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 -- As Cam Heyward talked to a couple of reporters following the last of the Steelers’ organized team activities on Thursday, LeGarrette Blount sidled up to him with a recording device that the running back had temporarily requisitioned.

Blount, a free-agent signee and emerging jokester on a team that has its share of them, waited patiently and then asked, “I just want to know how you feel about this guy LeGarrette Blount coming to your team?”

Heyward
“Who???” Heyward asked.

Blount was about to repeat the question when he realized that Heyward had played it perfectly. The two shared a hearty laugh, and the scene looked a lot different from the one in which Heyward fumed even after he and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson had to be separated during an 11-on-11 drill on Wednesday.

A day later Heyward shrugged off the altercation, chalking it up to the heat of the moment, even if it was a practice in shorts.

“I blacked out for a second,” Heyward said. “It's practice. It happens. We’re past that. We address it in house but I don’t think it needs anything out of the ordinary where we have to address it in public. Just make sure we’re on the same page and that we’re trying to work and get better every day.”

Heyward practiced at right defensive end during OTAs after starting the final 12 games last season on the left side. The 6-foot-5, 288-pounder, who led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressure in 2013, said he doesn’t have a preference where he plays this season since he has experience at both left and right defensive end.

Heyward also said that there isn’t much difference between the two spots aside from hand placement.

“You’re still going to get the same looks,” the fourth-year veteran said. “Sometimes you’ll get a heavier guy on the left side. On the right side you might have more of a versatile guy that’s able to move quicker but you’ve got to be ready for both.”
PITTSBURGH -- The most interesting sequence of the Pittsburgh Steelers' organized team activities took place late Wednesday morning.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier made a breathtaking interception during an 11-on-11 drill, leaping high to pick off a Bruce Gradkowski pass and drawing oohs for the display of athleticism.

And the action was just getting started.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward and rookie center Wesley Johnson started fighting at the end of the play and it took coaches and teammates to break the two apart. Heyward was still fuming at the end of the 11-on-11 drill, though it is not clear what set him off.

The Steelers' next-to-last OTA session produced its share of good catches but none beat Shazier's after he dropped into coverage. Gradkowski tried to throw a pass over the first-round pick's head, but Shazier snagged it out of the sticky air after making a standing leap.

“He has a high vertical because I was right behind him,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. “I was coming from the backside hash(mark) so I was just tracking the ball and then I saw it get snatched out of the air and I said, 'Wow.' He's a rookie but I came over to him and said, 'Good play young fella.'"

As for Shazier's take on the play, he said, “I had a zone drop and I just dropped over top and just read the quarterback's eyes and I knew he thought he could get it over me. I just jumped up and did what I could. Any time you can get a turnover that helps the offense get more points.”

Also of note from the Steelers' ninth OTA session:
  • Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who is nursing a calf injury, did not practice again but he did some work on the side. Cornerback Ike Taylor was a no-show for the second consecutive day. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton fielded punts and caught passes after practice but he did not take part in 11-on-11 drills. Not sure if there is some kind of injury issue but it appears Wheaton has been limited to drills in which he doesn't have to do much running.
  • Justin Brown has been getting extensive work with the first-team offense. The Steelers' sixth-round draft pick in 2013 showed why on Wednesday. Brown made a difficult touchdown catch in a seven-on-nine drill, outfighting two defenders for the ball in the corner of the end zone. More on Brown's development in a post that should go up later today.
  • Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount lined up together in the backfield though only for a couple of snaps. Look for the Steelers to try and find ways to get the two on the field together in different packages this season.
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 -- Kent State coach Paul Haynes and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey shared a memory -- and a laugh -- recently when they recalled Dri Archer's 100-yard kickoff return for a Kent State touchdown last season in a game between the Mid-American Conference rivals.

"Dri went down his sideline and [Carey] said he was going so fast and he was just thinking, ‘We are so stupid for kicking to this guy,'" Haynes said. "They were the only team that kicked deep to us. Everybody else pooched."

That anecdote neatly distills why the Pittsburgh Steelers were enamored enough with Archer’s breathtaking speed and big-play ability to draft him in the third round -- yet also why taking him that high might be a luxury they couldn't afford after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Steelers hope Kent State's
Dri Archer can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Archer already had been compared to former great kick returners such as Mel Gray and Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil, and that was just in the Steelers' building.

But since NFL kickers have been able to boom the ball out of the end zone with regularity since kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line, how much of a weapon will Archer be if teams simply decide to play keep-away?

That is what teams did last season when Archer managed just two kickoff returns for 128 yards and a touchdown. Haynes said Kent State didn’t even bother practicing kickoff returns once it became apparent that opposing teams weren’t going to let Archer beat them in that phase of the game.

Despite his limited opportunities last season, the Steelers placed a premium on Archer as a return man during their pre-draft evaluation of him.

"In my mind, return guys are starters," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "His kick-return ability is unique. It really is special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, we see some value there."

Where exactly the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer fits into the offense remains to be seen. The Steelers feature Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they have an emerging running back (Le'Veon Bell) and a bruising back (newly signed LeGarrette Blount).

"This is a guy that is going to create some unique opportunities for us from a package standpoint in terms of him getting identified," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position, I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."

Williams
Blount
Bell
Such talk sounds great in May, but how will it translate in actual games when there are a limited number of snaps and Archer is not a primary option at running back or wide receiver?

"We are all going to work together to make sure this guy is in the right place," running backs coach James Saxon said. "The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands."

Indeed, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior, leading the country with 8.99 yards per carry. His rushing totals plummeted to 527 yards last season, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Kent State played him extensively at wide receiver to showcase his versatility to NFL teams.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made here is flexing him out," Haynes said. "We needed to keep him at running back just because we could have gotten him more touches. He has great vision, he has great feet, he has great burst -- all the things a good running back needs to be."

That includes strength and toughness.

It is easy to fixate on Archer’s size and speed and label him a gimmick player, but that evaluation doesn't fit. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine in February, but Archer also bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.

That's only seven shy of the combine bench-press total for defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, the 6-7, 352-pounder the Steelers drafted in the sixth round.

Haynes said Archer is strong and thick enough to absorb a pounding in the NFL, and Tomlin said, “He is not small. He is short.”

It remains to be seen how many touches Archer will get in an offense that returns all but one starter from last season.

Bell averaged 17.2 carries per game in 2013, and he is a legitimate feature back because of his pass-catching abilities. The Steelers also have to find carries for Blount, who as recently as January bulled his way to 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns while leading the Patriots to a playoff victory.

That leaves Archer as a situational player, albeit a unique one, and the Steelers didn’t get favorable results the last time they drafted a ridiculously fast player with plans to use his speed to exploit mismatches.

Chris Rainey, even before he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh because of off-field incidents, didn’t make much of an impact on the offense. In 2012, his only season with the Steelers, the former Florida speedster rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries and caught 14 passes for a mere 60 yards.

There might turn out to be no comparison between Archer and Rainey aside from sheer speed. And one thing Archer won’t have a problem with, Haynes said, is representing the Steelers -- on the field and away from it.

"You think of toughness, you think hard-nose, you think of discipline," Haynes said of the Steelers. "That’s why I think Dri is going to fit in so well there, because a lot of those things are how I would describe him. Besides the football, he’s going to be a great ambassador for that program.

"You don’t have to worry about him off the field. He’s going to work, he’ll study the game, he’ll surround himself with the great pros that are already there and teach him how to be a great pro himself."
PITTSBURGH -- Given a chance to lobby for a tall wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a pass.

Roethlisberger
"Anything to help this team," Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan when asked who he thinks the Steelers should draft in the first round. "That’s the mindset we all need to be in because 8-8 is not good enough and we need to get back to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Whatever the higher powers decide can help this team that’s what I’m going for."

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers plan to maximize Roethlisberger’s remaining years with the team -- Big Ben said earlier this week that he feels like he can play five to seven more seasons -- by surrounding him with talent.

One former Steelers great said the best way to do that is to bolster the unit that protects the Steelers’ franchise quarterback.

"I think in order for Ben to be successful we have to solidify the offensive line," said Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. "We have to get a big-threat receiver and we have to get a running game back."

The Steelers won’t take a running back until the third day of the draft since Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are poised to get the bulk of the carries in 2014. They could take a wide receiver in the first round, though the position is so deep I think the Steelers wait a little later in the draft before addressing it.

Would the Steelers take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick?

The top three tackles in the class -- Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan -- are unlikely to slip to No. 15 in the draft. But Notre Dame’s Zack Martin could be available there, and he may be one of the safer picks in the draft as teams love his temperament and versatility.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Martin as the ninth-best player in the draft. He also has five tackles among his 16 highest-rated players in the draft (Virginia’s Morgan Moses is the other one).

It’s hard to see the Steelers using the first-round pick on a tackle given how many other needs they have.

But players they weren’t expecting to be available in past drafts have slipped to them so nothing can be ruled out here.
PITTSBURGH -- A highly regarded pass-rusher and one of the top performers at the NFL scouting combine are among the players visiting the Steelers today.

Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, a projected second-round pick, and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon are the Steelers’ latest pre-draft visitors.

Lawrence led the Mountain West last season in both sacks (10 1/2 ) and tackles for losses (20 ), and the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Lawrence as the 44th-best player in the draft and there is a possibility he could get taken late in the first round.

The Steelers have hosted a handful of outside linebacker prospects, including UCLA’s Anthony Barr, a projected first-round pick.

McKinnon is the second running back to visit the Steelers, and he is an intriguing prospect for several reasons. The 5-9, 209-pounder rushed for 3,899 career yards and he gained most of those as an option quarterback.

McKinnon, who led Georgia Southern to a 26-20 upset at Florida last season, played running back in the Senior Bowl and really turned heads at the combine two months ago.

He tested as well as anyone in Indianapolis, running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and notching 32 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, tops among all running backs. Both speedy and shifty, McKinnon fits the profile of the kind of back the Steelers may be seeking to complement Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

McKinnon has been projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Teams are allowed to host 30 out of area prospects for visits prior to the draft. Sunday is the last day for pre-draft visits.
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 Pittsburgh Steelers have signed seven players from other teams and they have been active in free agency despite limited room under the salary cap.

They have been able to add to their roster by taking advantage of a rule that allows teams to sign players to veteran’s minimum contacts and get a discount with such deals in regard to the cap.

The rule was instituted so veteran players did not get left out in free agency because of what they command as far as a minimum base salary, per the collective bargaining agreement, and the Steelers have signed three players under those provisions.

The maximum signing bonuses allowed in veteran minimum contracts is $65,000 and that is the only guaranteed money the Steelers gave to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Arthur Moats and cornerback Brice McCain.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell was the Steelers' biggest signing, but even he makes a modest base salary for his first two seasons with the team.
Take that with the guaranteed money -- almost exclusively given in signing bonuses -- the Steelers doled out to the four other outside free agents they signed and they are on the hook for only $8.04 million for those seven players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Of course, the money paid to those players should be much higher assuming the Steelers properly evaluated the free agents they signed and don’t cut ties with a number of them prematurely.

But guaranteeing just over $8 million to seven outside free agents shows how the Steelers have been able to reshape their roster despite the constraints of the salary cap.

Here is a review of the contacts, according to ESPN Stats & Info, signed by the seven outside free agents who have joined the Steelers since March 11:

  • Safety Mike Mitchell: The Steelers made their biggest signing on the first day of free agency when they landed Mitchell with a five-year, $25 million contract. They also protected themselves if Mitchell, who will take over at free safety for Ryan Clark, does not work out. The fifth-year veteran received a $4.75 million signing bonus and has already earned a $500,000 roster bonus. Mitchell has modest base salaries his first two seasons ($750,000 and $2 million) and base salaries of $5 million per season in each of the final three seasons of his deal. The Steelers could cut ties with Mitchell after two seasons if he is not a good fit in Pittsburgh and not absorb too much of a hit in regard to the salary cap.
  • Running back LeGarrette Blount: The Steelers signed the player who emerged as the Patriots’ best running back in the latter part of 2013 to a two-year, $3.85 million contract. Only the signing bonus ($950,000) is guaranteed with Blount scheduled to make base salaries of $900,000 and $2 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Steelers have some protection in the event that they want to part ways with Blount after one season since more than half of his money comes from the 2015 base salary that is not guaranteed.
  • Wide receiver Lance Moore: The Steelers signed Moore shortly after losing Jerricho Cotchery to the Carolina Panthers, landing the ninth-year veteran with a two-year, $3 million contract. Only a signing bonus of $645,000 is guaranteed and Moore will make base salaries of $855,000 and $1.5 million. Half of the money in Moore’s contract is in the second season giving the Steelers another escape hatch if they want to cut ties with the former Saint after one season.
  • Defensive lineman Cam Thomas: The Steelers badly needed bodies along their defensive line when they signed Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract. The player known as “Baby Zilla” because of his size received a $1 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1 million and $2 million. Again, even in shorter contracts given out by the Steelers they left themselves an out by putting half of the money in Thomas’ deal in the second year of his contract.
  • Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey: It’s easy to see why the Steelers took a chance on a player who has an excellent blend of size and speed but has inconsistent hands. Heyward-Bey agreed to a one-year, $795,000 contract and the only guaranteed money is the $65,000 the fifth-year veteran received as a signing bonus. This is a classic low-risk, potentially high-reward proposition for the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Arthur Moats: The former Bill signed the same deal as Heyward-Bey, and Moats will provide great value for the Steelers if he can handle the role of No. 3 outside linebacker as well as contribute on special teams. Moats really becomes a bargain is he also provides depth at inside linebacker, something the fourth-year veteran said he will be able to do.
  • Cornerback Brice McCain: Like Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain signed a one-year, $795,000 deal that includes a mere $65,000 signing bonus. As with Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain will count only $635,000 against the cap this year because of the veteran’s minimum deal he signed.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers hosted Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk for a visit earlier this week, and while that position isn’t a pressing need they figure to address it later in the draft.

The Steelers should be able to find a back who can help them and complement Le’Veon Bell and newly signed LeGarrette Blount given how much the value of that position has slipped.

The first running back in the 2013 draft wasn’t taken until the second round -- the Bengals started a run on them when they selected North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard -- and players at that position could be pushed down even further in this year’s draft.

“Every year there’s third- to sixth-round running backs that are outstanding backs and this year [that is the case] more than any other because there’s not many teams now that really need a running back,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “There’s three to five [teams] maybe that could take one within the first four rounds.”

That prediction bodes well for the Steelers, who are unlikely to take a running back before the fifth round given the other holes they have to fill with their first four picks.

The Steelers are likely to target a speedy, shifty player at the position since they have a pair of big backs in Bell and Blount.

One back whom Kiper really likes is Kent State’s Dri Archer, though he could be gone before the Steelers draft a running back.

Archer ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine and Kiper ranks the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder as the fourth-best running back in the draft despite questions about his size.

Archer had 854 rushing and receiving yards combined last season for Kent State and scored 11 touchdowns, and his speed and versatility would allow the team that drafts the scatback to create mismatches for him.

“Dri Archer could be Darren Sproles in the third round,” Kiper said.
PITTSBURGH -- The NFL draft is still more than five weeks away but the Steelers may turn their full attention to it since it looks like they are finished with free agency for now.

The signing of running back LeGarrette Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract on Friday puts the Steelers smack up against the spending ceiling and with the least amount of salary-cap space of any team.

They have not tried to restructure linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract, and they could create millions of dollars in cap room by turning a significant portion of his $6.75 million base salary this year into a signing bonus.

There doesn't appear to be any other moves on the horizon that could create cap room such as a new contract for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or a multiyear deal for outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

The Steelers will most likely wait until after June 1 when they receive more than $8 million in cap savings from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley before they sign more free agents, including some of their own.

If they have put free agency on hold the Steelers have to be more than pleased with what they've accomplished in the last three weeks.

They signed a starting safety in Mike Mitchell, who makes them younger and faster in the secondary. They added much-needed depth at running back as well as a starting-caliber player in Blount. And the Steelers compensated nicely for the loss of Jerricho Cotchery by signing Lance Moore to step in as their No. 3 wide receiver.

They have also addressed both of their lines and signed a linebacker in Arthur Moats, who has the flexibility to play inside and outside as well as on special teams.

The Steelers haven't been splashy during free agency but they have been effective -- at least on paper -- in filling holes.

And it would have been hard to foresee them making this many signings without compromising the foundation of their team a month ago when they still had work to do just to get in compliance with the salary cap.
PITTSBURGH -- The team with the least amount of salary cap continues to find ways to plug holes on its roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers added a thumper to their backfield on Friday when they signed former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount to a two-year contract.

Blount, just like the signing of wide receiver Lance Moore a week ago, gives the Steelers a proven NFL player and one who adds depth to a position that had been conspicuously lacking it.

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AP Photo/Matt SlocumLeGarrette Blount rushed for four TDs, including this 75-yarder in the playoffs against the Colts.
That the Steelers have remained active in free agency despite hovering so close to the spending ceiling -- they were roughly $1 million under the cap prior to the Blount signing -- is not a surprise.

Remember, this is the organization that was supposedly in the salary cap equivalent of Leavenworth only a month ago. The Steelers have since put on another clinic in managing the cap, as they have shed salary without compromising the core of the team.

They created enough room under the cap to sign starting safety Mike Mitchell, add depth along their offensive line, as well as other positions, and compensate for the loss of Jerricho Cotchery by signing Moore.

Blount, the Steelers’ latest addition, is 27, has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in four NFL seasons.

Blount was one of the better running backs at the end of last season.

Just ask the Colts.

Blount steamrolled them in the AFC playoffs in January, rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-22 Patriots win.

The 6-foot, 250-pounder is cut in the mold of a Steelers running back, and fans who embraced a player nicknamed “The Bus” will be delighted to know that Blount’s moniker is “The Winnebago.”

That is not to say fans should expect a Jerome Bettis redux in Blount.

The Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell as their feature back -- as they should be -- and the former second-round draft pick will get the majority of the carries assuming he builds on a stellar rookie campaign.

Blount does provide the Steelers much-needed insurance behind Bell.

Just as significant, he gives them options.

With another ball-carrier who packs a punch, the Steelers can reduce some of the wear and tear on Bell by incorporating Blount into the running game.

That could prolong Bell’s career, and in the short-term it would allow the Steelers to wear down defenses by hammering them with two big running backs.

Whatever role Blount assumes, the Steelers improved by signing him.

And they continue to improve themselves despite limited room under the salary cap.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are meeting Friday with LeGarrette Blount and they have added incentive to sign the former Patriots running back before he leaves.

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There is finally movement when it comes to running backs, one of the few positions that didn't cash in during the first frenzied wave of free agency. As a result, the Steelers don't have as many options when it comes to signing a proven veteran running back to provide depth behind Le'Veon Bell.

Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited the Steelers last week, is visiting Oakland on Friday and the two sides are closing in on a contract, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Jones-Drew is expected to have a new deal a day after the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno to a one-year, $3 million contract, per Schefter.

Those two developments may not lead to the Steelers putting an all-out blitz on Blount today but they should have more of a sense of urgency when it comes to signing him. Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week at the NFL owners meetings that the Steelers intend to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell and there aren't a lot of options if they don't sign Blount.

Whether the two sides can find common ground on money as well as Blount's role with Bell entrenched as the starter remains to be seen.

The Steelers would have to clear salary-cap room to sign Blount but that could be done easily by restructuring linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract.

Given a back the caliber of Moreno fetched just a one-year deal with decent but not great money bodes well for Blount falling into the range of what the Steelers are willing to pay him.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers raised eyebrows when they hosted Maurice Jones-Drew for an extended visit last week.

Jones-Drew, after all, seemed about as good a fit in Pittsburgh as palm trees.

But Mike Tomlin made it clear Tuesday morning that while the Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell they will also cover themselves at running back.

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"We're looking to add depth at that position and a guy of that caliber, a 'been there, done that' type of veteran will be an asset for us," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Having legitimate interest in Jones-Drew, who has over 8,000 career rushing yards, and landing the former Jaguars running back are two different things.

Jones-Drew is probably looking to sign with a team that will at least give him an opportunity to start as well as provide the eight-year veteran with a significant pay day.

The Steelers aren't in a position to do either.

Bell is entrenched as the starter after an impressive rookie season, and the Steelers are just $1.52 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That doesn't mean the Steelers aren't well-positioned to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell.

The market is not a good one for running backs, even accomplished ones such as Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno, who had over 1,500 combined rushing and receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season but remains unsigned.

Unlike other positions, running backs haven't cashed in while teams are throwing around money as if it were confetti.

A buyer's market bodes well for the Steelers adding a quality veteran to their backfield even if it isn't Jones Drew, whose base salary was $4.95 million last season.

The Steelers are scheduled to meet with LeGarrette Blount on Friday, and he is another running back looking for work despite emerging as the Patriots' best back in the second half of last season.

The Steelers are serious enough about Blount that they pushed his visit back -- he was initially slated to be in Pittsburgh on Monday -- so Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert could meet with the four-year veteran.

It is possible that the Steelers make enough of a push -- and free up the necessary cash -- that they sign Blount before he leaves Pittsburgh.

Or they will continue to be patient, knowing the market is such that a proven veteran will eventually fall into the range of what they can offer -- both in dollars and in playing time.

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