NFL Nation: Martavis Bryant

CB Webb out again for Ravens

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
7:35
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- The Ravens will be without their top cornerback for the second consecutive game.

Lardarius Webb won’t play tonight against the Steelers because of a back injury. Chykie Brown will start at left cornerback in the 8:25 p.m. ET game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Webb is the only starter who won’t play in the first Steelers-Ravens game of the season.

The Steelers are without No. 3 wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) and rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) because of injuries.

Joining them on the Steelers' inactives list are wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, guard Chris Hubbard, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and quarterback Landry Jones.

Joining Webb on the Ravens’ inactives list are linebacker Arthur Brown, guard Jah Reid, wide receivers Deonte Thompson and Michael Campanaro, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi and guard John Urschel.
PITTSBURGH -- Will Johnson said he will be ready if the Steelers need him to do more than just block tonight against the Ravens.

Johnson
Johnson, a fullback/tight end, will serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 running back at M&T Bank Stadium with rookie Dri Archer out because of a sprained ankle.

Johnson played a little bit of running back in the Steelers’ final preseason game, and he carried the ball one time for 6 yards.

Johnson played tailback and defensive back in high school.

“It feels natural," the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder said of playing running back. "If they need me in an emergency situation, I could do it.”

The Steelers could sign rookie Josh Harris from the practice squad to also provide depth behind Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. My guess, however, is that the Steelers are comfortable with Johnson as their No. 3 running back and won’t add Harris to the 53-man roster.

In addition to Archer, wide receiver Lance Moore won’t play against the Ravens because of a groin injury. Here is my projection of the five healthy players who will be deactivated by the Steelers for the 8:30 p.m. ET game at M&T Bank Stadium:
  • WR Martavis Bryant: The rookie fourth-round pick is listed as probable after coming back from a shoulder injury, but Darrius Heyward-Bey gets the nod over Bryant because the latter plays special teams.
  • G Chris Hubbard: I have the Steelers dressing eight offensive linemen with rookie Wesley Johnson getting the last spot on the game day roster because of his versatility. The last time the Steelers played at Baltimore they barely had enough healthy offensive linemen to finish the game. In a game as physical as this one it will be wise for the Steelers to have an extra offensive lineman active.
  • CB D.W. Webb: He only played a few snaps on special teams against the Browns and will lose his spot to cornerback Brice McCain unless McCain has a setback with his groin.
  • NT Daniel McCullers: Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is fine after missing some time in the season opener because of a stinger.
  • QB Landry Jones: Has yet to dress for an NFL game and that won’t change unless there is an injury at quarterback.

Steelers' Archer, Moore out vs. Ravens

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
4:30
PM ET
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a little shorthanded on offense Thursday night in Baltimore.

Running back Dri Archer (ankle) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) were ruled out for the Steelers’ game against the Ravens.

Archer sprained his ankle in the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Browns last Sunday and Moore did not play in the season opener because of a nagging groin injury.

Justin Brown will again serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said fullback Will Johnson will also play running back in case of an injury to starter Le’Veon Bell or backup LeGarrette Blount.

Brown caught three passes for 38 yards against the Browns and played extensively in his first NFL game, which reflected the confidence Haley has in him.

“Justin did a lot of real good things for his first time out there in a home opener with a different level of intensity that you see from preseason games that he played in to real games,” Haley said of Brown’s NFL debut. “He handled it well. He fought through his mistakes and bounced back. He didn’t let it get him too down or too up when he made some plays. And he didn’t shy away from competition. I think it’s a great start to grow from."

All other Steelers players who have been dealing with injuries, including wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder), cornerback Brice McCain (groin), safety Shamarko Thomas (Achilles, ankle) and center Cody Wallace (hamstring, finger), are listed as probable.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
12:00
PM ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) play Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offensive starters will play at least a half, and look for the Steelers to run the no-huddle attack extensively, matching the fast pace their defense will see from the Eagles. Roethlisberger wants to get work with the no-huddle offense on the road, where he will have to rely on hand signals more because of crowd noise. It will also be interesting to see how much the Steelers run out of their no-huddle offense. They wanted to establish the run with their starters in their first preseason game. Check. They wanted to come out throwing in the no-huddle in their second preseason game. Check. Now it’s time to see the Steelers run the ball extensively out of the no-huddle, as that will be a significant component of their offense this season.
  • An ankle injury to Shamarko Thomas last season provided an opportunity that veteran Will Allen exploited. Allen established himself as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, relegating Thomas to special-teams duty the rest of the season. Now Allen is nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Steelers’ second preseason game, and the 11th-year veteran might not play against the Eagles. Thomas looks like a different player in his second season, and he drew pretty high praise from coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday. If Thomas wins the job as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, does that make Allen expendable? It could if the Steelers only keep four safeties and third-year man Robert Golden continues to play well.
  • Roethlisberger challenged wide receiver Martavis Bryant earlier this week to practice with more of a purpose, to practice like Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. If Roethlisberger isn’t handling the rookie fourth-round pick with kid gloves, that is because the Steelers think Bryant can be an asset in the passing game -- and sooner rather than later. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant has a unique blend of size and speed, and he is the kind of wideout whom the Steelers have rarely had with Roethlisberger at quarterback. I’d love to see Bryant get some work with the first-team offense. Same with Justin Brown, who has just three catches for 15 yards in two preseason games and has received most of his playing time with the backup quarterbacks.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
12:00
PM ET
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. -- A seemingly forgotten linebacker has hit harder than some of the storms that swept through the area during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first week of training camp.

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

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

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

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

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

OBSERVATION DECK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nobody has Mike Wallace’s speed but as far as having that kind of ability, yes, I do think [Bryant] has that kind of ability,” Taylor said. “When you’ve got a guy who’s 6-4, who can pretty much run with anybody and can jump and catch, that’s a good sign.”

Steelers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
7:15
PM ET
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 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:30
PM ET
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 1

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

They simply don’t need the 30-year-old wide receiver, who won the MVP Award in their last Super Bowl victory but has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeLance Moore
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoWide receiver Lance Moore, an eight-year veteran who signed with the Steelers this offseason, brings his 4,281 yards and 38 TDs to Pittsburgh.
Consider what offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week about the Steelers’ receivers.

“It’s as deep a group as I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Haley said near the end of offseason practices. “I think some guys that are pretty good football players probably won’t make the team.”

Haley tempered his assessment of the Steelers' wide receivers with the acknowledgement that the current group has yet to show what it can collectively do in pads.

And, of course, everything looks better in June when every team is still undefeated and pass-rushers are wearing shorts and are prohibited from hitting quarterbacks.

But Haley’s comment about the overall quality of the Steelers' wide receivers resonates even at this time of year because of his resume.

He coached the wide receivers in Dallas and Chicago while climbing the coaching ladder, and the Arizona Cardinals had arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in 2008 when Haley was their offensive coordinator. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin helped the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance and nearly led them to an upset of the Steelers in Tampa.

Whether the potential Haley sees in the Steelers' wideouts translates into production, one season after the loss of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, who combined for 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, remains to be seen.

Here are a few things to like about the Steelers’ wide receivers following organized team activities and minicamp:

  • Lance Moore, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract in March, stood out as much as any player during offseason practices. The former Saints wide receiver proved to be a quick study while learning a new offense, and he could put up big numbers if opposing teams pay too much attention to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Moore reminds me of Cotchery in the sense that he is a pro’s pro.
  • Markus Wheaton still has a ways to go to win the starting job held down by Sanders last season, and that is a good thing. Wheaton had a solid offseason, but he will have a lot of competition during training camp. Justin Brown, who stood out during offseason practices, will be among those who push Wheaton. The 6-3, 209-pound Brown spent all of last season on the practice squad, but wide receivers coach Richard Mann said, "He’s just a different guy. He understands the concepts. He’s smoother. His body language is different.”
  • The Steelers have so much depth at wide receiver that Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will have trouble making the team. Heyward-Bey has to be consistent catching the call during training camp. But if he does that and makes the team, he would become a nice player to have as a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver. "He has the speed. He has the talent,” Mann said. Hopefully we will put him in a position to succeed with his speed and smartness, and we will take advantage of what he does best.”

Plenty is still unknown about the wide receiving corps. What exactly will the Steelers get out of Martavis Bryant this season? Is Wheaton ready to emerge as a significant contributor after catching six passes for 64 yards as a rookie? Will Brown build on his strong offseason and make a serious push for a roster spot?

These are among the questions that won’t be answered until after the Steelers report to training camp on July 25.

As Mann said, “When we start playing tackle, we will figure out what we have.”
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 -- 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 -- Antonio Brown is coming off one of the two best statistical seasons ever by a Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver. He is the only wideout on the roster who played more than 200 snaps for the Steelers last season.

Wallace
Brown
And respected veteran Jerricho Cotchery is now catching passes for the Carolina Panthers.

Despite all of this, Brown isn't ready to call the wide receivers meeting room his own.

"I can't claim it yet but working towards it," said Brown, who caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. "I want to be the guy that sets the standard and hopefully other guys will follow."

Brown has earned the right to lead the wide receivers based on his production and his work ethic. The latter is, in a word, maniacal. This is after all a player who will put in a full work day at the Steelers' practice facility and then go to a gym to work out at night.

And this is during the season.

There is another reason why Brown has to lead the wide receivers this season: The two-time Pro Bowler made it incumbent upon himself to do so after he criticized former Steelers captain Ryan Clark in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and questioned team unity during consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Whether Browns was right or not, the fourth-year veteran has to assume the lead in making sure there are no divisions in the Steelers' locker room moving forward.

And that there are no agendas that are incompatible with the Steelers returning to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus and re-establishing themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Brown has already proven he can lead by example. Now he has to help bring along younger wide receiver such as Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant.

"I've got to set the tempo, have a leadership role and explain to guys assignments and what is expected," Brown said.

He took the lead in outlining what is expected when he went public with his criticism of Clark and perceived rifts that had pervaded the Steelers' locker room.

His next step is making sure others follow him in upholding that standard.
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers are using rookie minicamp to take an extended look at sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt at outside linebacker.

Zumwalt appeared ticketed for inside linebacker when the Steelers drafted him last week but his versatility could work out well for the UCLA product as well as his new team.

The Steelers are extremely thin at outside linebacker and being able to play the position as well as inside linebacker will only enhance Zumwalt’s chances of making the team.

“I will go wherever they want me to,” Zumwalt said Saturday after the Steelers' first practice of the day. “They told me to make sure I am paying attention to the inside stuff, too, because I am definitely going to be playing there. So I assume I’m going to be swinging all over the place.”

Not until the middle of June.

Zumwalt and Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson, a fifth-round pick, will miss the majority of organized team activity (OTAs) practices, coach Mike Tomlin said, because their respective schools are on quarters instead of semesters.

Neither is allowed to resume practicing with the Steelers until their school year is over.

“So I will be coming [back] with fresh legs,” Zumwalt said with a smile.

Also of note from the Steelers’ second day of rookie minicamp:
  • Wide receiver Martavis Bryant watched the morning practice as the Steelers held the fourth-round pick out of drills as a precaution. “He fell yesterday catching the ball on the sideline,” Tomlin said. “Maybe he’ll be back out this afternoon. We’ll see.”
  • The Steelers apparently weren’t trying to give defensive end Stephon Tuitt extra motivation when they issued him the No. 91. The number was previously worn by Aaron Smith, one of the top 3-4 defensive ends of his generation but Tomlin said, “it’s probably coincidental.”
  • The Steelers will hold their final practice of rookie minicamp Sunday morning. When asked what he is looking for from the 52 players who are taking part in minicamp, Tomlin said, “I think you gather information about people as much as you evaluate them. How they learn, how they learn in classroom settings, how they learn on the grass. Are they capable of learning from other’s mistakes? What do they do with the reps that they get? Really it’s just a blank slate from that standpoint.”

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