NFL Nation: Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski recently ranked all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is sixth on his list after Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

DE Cameron Heyward: The 2011 first-round pick is the one proven commodity that the Steelers have at defensive end. Heyward pushed his way into the starting lineup after the fourth game of last season, and he led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures in 2013 and tied for the team lead with five sacks. To say there is a significant drop-off after Heyward at defensive end is an understatement.
PITTSBURGH -- He still uses his GPS to make his way around Pittsburgh, but rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier didn’t need nearly as much navigational assistance when he was on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice fields in late May and June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Steelers are set at their No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the depth chart. Rookie Brendon Kaye has an outside shot of beating out Jones, but the undrafted free agent is likely using the preseason games to audition for other teams.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

This is the one position where someone under the radar has a chance to play his way onto the 53-man roster. The Steelers can probably afford to go with three running backs -- Johnson is a fullback/tight end -- and stash a back or two on the practice squad in the event of injuries.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Darrius Heyward-Bey makes the team if the Steelers keep six wide receivers because of his ability to play special teams. The Steelers may need an extra spot at wide receiver this year if Bryant isn’t ready to contribute as a rookie.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

I went a little light here because Johnson could play a significant amount at tight end this season. David Paulson and Michael Palmer are incumbents but neither has shown enough to hold off Blanchflower, who could be another late-round find for the Steelers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

I could see the Steelers going with eight offensive linemen if they think they can sneak Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick, onto their practice squad. This group will be among the hardest to crack given how many returners the Steelers have up front.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)

Yep, I see Keisel making the Steelers' 53-man roster, whether the Steelers re-sign the 12th-year veteran before the start of training camp or during it. A surprise player or two always makes the team. I’m thinking Lapuaho has a chance to be that guy with sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers needing a year on the practice squad.

LINEBACKERS (8)

The Steelers could have some tough choices at linebacker, especially if Spence’s knee holds up during training camp and the former third-round pick looks as good practicing in pads as he did in shorts. Terence Garvin may be the odd man out inside while veteran outside linebacker Chris Carter could get bumped from the roster by Zumwalt.

CORNERBACKS (6)

McCain could be in trouble here if the Steelers go with five cornerbacks because Blake is so valuable on special teams. Richardson is no lock to make the roster after Terry Hawthorne, the cornerback the Steelers drafted in the fifth round in 2013, didn’t even make the practice squad last year.

SAFETIES (5)

I think the first four safeties are set barring injury. A couple of spots are reserved every year based solely on special-teams play. That’s how Golden makes the 53-man roster again this season.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The only battle is at punter where Podlesh will try to hold off Brad Wing. The latter is an intriguing prospect because of his physical ability and his past work at LSU. Given that Podlesh has a track record in the NFL, Wing will have to clearly outperform him to make the team.

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

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

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

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

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.
Franco Harris, Jimmy WarrenAP Photo/Harry Cabluck
We have a winner. And was there even a doubt? The voters picked "Immaculate Reception" as the Pittsburgh Steelers' most memorable play and I applaud their selection.

Score: Steelers 13, Raiders 7

Date: Dec. 23, 1972. Site: Three Rivers Stadium

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Which is the most memorable play in Steelers' history?

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Discuss (Total votes: 41,102)

The irony for a franchise that has so many great plays in its illustrious history is that there is really only one choice for the most memorable one.

Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" won that designation in fan voting on ESPN.com by a landslide over James Harrison's 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII and Santonio Holmes' toe-tapping touchdown catch in the same game.

The fans got this right, even though the play that went in the books as a 60-yard touchdown catch did not come in any one of the six seasons in which the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

First and foremost, it gave a franchise that had never won a playoff game and its long-suffering fans belief. That had been in short supply in the near four decades that followed the Steelers' founding in 1933 by Art Rooney.

Harris changed that when he snatched a pass that had ricocheted back with the Steelers facing certain defeat in an AFC playoff game and then rumbled down the left sideline for the winning touchdown.

The 1974 NFL draft, when the Steelers took four future Pro Football Hall of Famers with their first five picks, ultimately put them over the top and led to four Super Bowl victories in six seasons.

But Harris' miraculous play put the Steelers on the course that transformed them from perennial also-rans to the team of the 1970s.

How much it is still a part of Pittsburgh lore -- and how it transcends sports -- can be seen in Pittsburgh International Airport. There are two life-sized statues in the main concourse. One is of our first president, George Washington, who fought in the French and Indian War in Western Pennsylvania. The other statue is of Harris making the most famous shoestring catch in NFL history.

It remains one of the NFL's most iconic plays and is a timeless reminder of playing to the final whistle -- in life as well as in sports.

In the end, every other Steelers play is still vying for second place when it comes to the most memorable one in franchise history.

Steelers' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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The key for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the next three years is developing young players such as outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, safety Shamarko Thomas, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

They will be the cornerstones of a defense that has been almost completely overhauled over the past couple of years -- and may not have strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor beyond the 2014 season.

Shazier, the Steelers' first-round pick this year, has the look of a future Pro Bowler, and he did well during the offseason practices. The key for the former Ohio State star is continuing that in training camp when the pads go on and the hitting starts.

Jones, the team's first-round pick in 2013, is a crucial part of the Steelers' future given how vital it is that their outside linebackers generate a consistent pass rush. Jones struggled while learning the Steelers' defense on the job last season and recorded just one sack despite starting eight games.

He will be better this season, especially with former Steelers great Joey Porter mentoring him, but will Jones establish himself as a premier pass-rusher over the next couple of seasons?

The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Tuitt already has an NFL body, and the 2014 second-round pick will make a nice pairing with defensive end Cameron Heyward if he realizes the potential that has the Steelers so excited about him.

The hard-hitting Thomas is the likely successor to Polamalu, and the Steelers have high hopes for the 2013 fourth-round pick.

Pittsburgh also needs to develop some cornerbacks. The Steelers would love nothing more than if rookie Shaquille Richardson, a fifth-round pick, becomes their latest midround find at the position.

Cornerback may also be the Steelers' top priority in the 2015 NFL draft after many thought they would use a high pick on one this year.
PITTSBURGH -- As polarizing a figure as Johnny Manziel is, he can probably get Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers fans to agree on one thing.

The majority of fans on both sides would love to see him start Sept. 7 when the Browns visit Heinz Field for the regular-season opener between the bitter rivals.

Manziel
Steelers season-ticket holders would pay double to see the quarterback who reached celebrity status before throwing his first NFL pass receive a baptism/comeuppance from Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Browns fans might be just as eager to see Manziel in Pittsburgh, though obviously for a different reason.

The Browns have gone through quarterbacks at an alarming rate since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999. They desperately need someone to stop the cycle, and Browns fans might want to see if Manziel can conjure up the magic that made him a legend at Texas A&M right from the start -- even if the circumstances for his NFL debut in Pittsburgh could be a recipe for disaster.

Manziel, speaking to Browns reporters at the NFL Rookie Symposium, said his goal is to start this season. But the former Heisman Trophy winner conceded that he is still well behind Brian Hoyer, who will enter training camp as the No. 1 quarterback.

I asked a handful of Steelers defensive starters before the end of offseason practices whether they would like to see Manziel under center for the season opener, and I didn’t get much more than a collective shrug of the shoulders.

“It don’t matter,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback.”

Mike Mitchell agreed.

“To be honest I just want someone that’s going to throw me a pick,” the Steelers free safety said. “I don’t really care who it is. I want the quarterback that’s the most confident, the most prepared, so when I take it from him, no excuses. That’s what I want every week.”

Defensive end Cameron Heyward played his college ball at Ohio State, so he can understand, even if only to some degree, the scrutiny Manziel is already under in the Buckeye state.

“It’s tough. Everybody’s looking for him to mess up,” Heyward said. “He’s a great player. I wish him the best.”

So, would Heyward like to get the first crack at Johnny Football, so to speak?

“Whoever’s in there I’m going to have fun either way,” Heyward said with a smile.
PITTSBURGH -- Shamarko Thomas has made quite an impression on the player he is expected to eventually succeed at strong safety.

Per veteran cornerback Ike Taylor, Thomas is training in California with Troy Polamalu after accepting an invitation from the eight-time Pro Bowler to work out together following the conclusion of Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason practices.

Thomas
Polamalu
As Taylor said on TribLive Radio this week, this is not something Polamalu does on a regular basis -- and that Thomas should respect the opportunity to work closely with one of the best safeties of his generation.

“I was telling Shamarko before he went out there, ‘Shamarko, that’s something huge because the dude don’t ever do that. As far as learning tendencies and the defense, just the way of life, or just learning how to be a good person, you’re walking with Jesus on earth right there,’ ” Taylor said on his weekly radio show.

The invitation Polamalu extended represents as strong an endorsement as Thomas could receive from one of the players he attached himself to last season as a rookie.

It certainly is a promising sign after Thomas worked his way into the Steelers’ quarters package as a third safety in 2013 only to lose the spot to veteran Will Allen in the second half of the season.

Thomas played 184 defensive snaps last season but none in the Steelers’ final seven games. Allen, who re-signed with the Steelers last October, played well after a high-ankle sprain sidelined Thomas, and he held onto the job as third safety in the quarters package.

Allen, who is entering his 11th NFL season, continued to play ahead of Thomas during offseason practices, taking Polamalu’s spot at strong safety during organized team activities. Polamalu skipped the voluntary practices so he could train in California, though the eight-time Pro Bowler took part in mandatory minicamp, which ended last week.

The Steelers have high hopes for Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2013, and the 5-foot-9, 217-pounder should stand out more at training camp where players will wear pads and hit after doing neither during offseason practices.

“Shamarko is known for knocking people out,” Taylor said, “and the only way you’re going to see him knock someone out is in training camp, preseason games, regular-season games. That’s what Shamarko Thomas excels at.”
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.”
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, for NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 11. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests John Keim (Washington Redskins reporter) and Scott Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers reporters) discuss a range of topics from the team nickname under fire in the nation’s capital to the passing of a legend in Chuck Noll to Michael Vick thinking very highly of himself, among other timely issues. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Stephon Tuitt: 'I love pressure'

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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PITTSBURGH -- He was issued the number worn by Aaron Smith, one of the best defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

His position coach continued the link when he compared Stephon Tuitt to a young Aaron Smith.

Pressure? Yeah, and Tuitt says bring it on.

“I love pressure,” the rookie defensive end said. “I thrive off of that.”

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt, 7, of Notre Dame hopes to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Smith as the Pittsburgh Steelers' next dominant 3-4 defensive end.
He better, since the Steelers are hoping Tuitt is one of the players they build around up front with Smith and nose tackle Casey Hampton no longer with the team and defensive end Brett Keisel still a free agent.

John Mitchell has spoken highly of Tuitt since the Steelers drafted the former Notre Dame star, calling him a steal in the second round and later comparing him to Smith, who was so good in his prime that teams could not effectively block him with just one man.

Mitchell, however, has tempered expectations during minicamp, which wraps up today, and said the Steelers won’t play Tuitt until he is ready.

“The worst thing you want to happen to a good player who is going to be good down the road, he loses confidence because he goes in the game when he’s not ready to play,” the veteran defensive line coach told Steelers.com. “We’re not going to rush this kid in there. When he’s ready to play and we feel he can help this team, that’s when we’re going to play him. As he grows he’s going to be a good football player and he’s going to play here for a long time.”

It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Tuitt, who could have returned to Notre Dame for his senior season, is able to help the Steelers right away since much at defensive end is unknown after Cameron Heyward.

Cam Thomas, who started 10 games at nose tackle for the San Diego Chargers last season, will go into training camp as the starting defensive end opposite Heyward. After that the Steelers have a bunch of young, unproven players at the position, though there is a chance they bring Keisel back.

Tuitt is the most promising of the youngsters the Steelers have at defensive end.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder already has an NFL body, and he likely would have been a first-round pick had he not carried extra weight in 2013 after surgery compromised his offseason training.

Tuitt’s sheer size and the fact that he played some five-technique defensive end in college should help reduce his learning curve.

“I played every single position at Notre Dame,” said Tuitt, whose 21 career sacks rank among the school’s all-time leaders “Coming into this defense there isn’t much change. It’s just different when everybody you’re going against is top caliber.”

Top-caliber is an apt description of the defensive end who wore No. 91 before Tuitt.

Smith established himself as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends of his generation, and he was a main reason the Steelers regularly ranked among the top rushing defenses in the NFL.

Tuitt has yet to meet Smith, but he has already heard plenty about him.

“I’ve gotten a chance to see who wore this number before me, and the person who wore the number before me was a great player for the Steelers,” Tuitt said. “With that comes a great opportunity to become the best, and that’s somebody I want to become as great as or greater than.”
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 -- I expected the street outside of the magnificent St. Paul Cathedral to be choked with people.

There instead was a smattering of onlookers across from the church when Steelers president Art Rooney II and Steelers legend "Mean” Joe Greene, among others, carried the casket into St. Paul's, shortly before 10 a.m. ET Tuesday.

I expected the service to be filled with remembrances from former players and others lucky enough to occupy the same orbit as the only coach to win four Super Bowls.

There was one story told -- it came from Bishop David A. Zubik, who presided over the service that lasted about an hour -- and no eulogy.

The final farewell to Charles Henry Noll, in other words could not have been more fitting.

[+] EnlargeChuck Noll funeral
AP Photo/John HellerBishop David Zubik watches as pallbearers carry the casket of Chuck Noll out of St. Paul Cathedral.
Noll, who died at the age of 82 on Friday night, hated a fuss, particularly when someone tried to make one over him. That is why he probably would have been fuming instead of smiling following the outpouring of testimonials and talk of his towering legacy over the last four days.

It is also why his wife of almost 60 years gave pointed directions to Zubik when they planned the service held at the church that is tucked into the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

"Marianne (Noll) just said she wanted it very simple,” Zubik said. "She and I talked on Saturday and she wanted it to be as he lived his life -- no big fanfare.”

Noll did receive a send-off befitting his stature simply based on who attended the service: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and scores of former and current Steelers players, coaches and executives.

And the story Zubik relayed to mourners could not have better captured the essence of Chuck Noll. Zubik described how, as a young priest in Pittsburgh in 1979, he had to plan a retreat for high school seniors from area Catholic schools. And who better to give a talk on leadership than Chuck Noll? Zubik reached out to Noll through a friend and Noll agreed to speak to the group on the condition that Zubik tell no one about it.

Zubik kept his word but it looked like another Steelers' Super Bowl run would spoil Noll's speaking engagement. Noll, after all, had agreed to an appearance that was scheduled for two days after the Super Bowl.

But true to his word Noll showed up at the retreat less than 48 hours after the Steelers had won their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons. He talked to a group that included a Pittsburgh Central Catholic senior named Dan Marino. Oh, and, yeah, he drove himself there.

Zubik later got a call from one of the higher-ups in the Pittsburgh Diocese who wanted to know how in the world he had gotten Noll as a speaker. Zubik, in fact, had never met Noll.

That was the point, he said, of the story.

"For him it didn't matter how important you were or how unimportant you were,” Zubik said. "Through his eyes everyone was important.”

That was part of the consistency at which those who were around Noll on a regular basis marveled.

"What it takes to win on the field, what it takes to win off the field, he did not waver in that,” Greene said.

Noll and Greene are forever linked -- the latter was Noll's first-ever draft pick -- which is fitting considering how much they did to transform an organization that had mostly known losing and dysfunction prior to their arrival.

Greene shudders to think how things would have turned out had the Steelers not taken him with the fourth overall pick of the 1969 draft.

And that has little to do with the four Super Bowl rings he won with Noll.

"Maybe I wouldn't have had an opportunity to be coached by Chuck Noll and that would not have fared very well for me,” said Greene, who is widely considered the best player in Steelers' history.

It probably wouldn't have fared well for the Steelers either had they not hired a little-known 37-year assistant in 1969 who had played for Paul Brown and coached under Don Shula the previous season.

Noll went on to earn a place with Brown and Shula in the NFL coaching pantheon and then quietly walked away from the game in 1991.

He had receded from the public eye because of health problems years ago, but Noll's passing only reinforces how much time has passed since the Steelers ruled the 1970s -- a time when the steel mills were closing, jobs were drying up and Pittsburghers needed something to feel good about themselves.

"As we've lost Dwight White and L.C. (Greenwood) and some others, we want to hold on to the past and memories and we do,” said former Steelers offensive tackle Jon Kolb, who played for and coached under Noll for almost 25 years. "But I think Chuck's passing, it is truly the end of an era because he truly did bring all of those folks together.”

The day of his final farewell produced the kind of heat and humidity that Noll loved when he was putting his players through the paces at training camp. Noll may have been at his best when he was teaching on those grassy fields at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

No stadium lights. No scoreboards. No fanfare.

Just the way he always wanted it.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players from multiple eras -- including this one -- attended Chuck Noll's funeral on Tuesday morning in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell, Mel Blount
John Heller/AP PhotoNFL commisioner Roger Goodell and former Steelers CB Mel Blount embrace before Tuesday's funeral service for Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.
Former Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris and John Stallworth were there. So were current players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ike Taylor.

Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.

Make that demanded.

Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.

No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.

"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."

Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.

"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."

[+] EnlargeJohn Banaszak
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoJohn Banaszak recalls the opportunity Chuck Noll provided for him as a Steelers' defensive lineman.
John Banaszak played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-81.

"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."

Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.

"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."

• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said no coach did it better than Chuck Noll following his annual youth football camp on Monday.

Roethlisberger
"He's the greatest coach of all time," Roethlisberger told reporters. "For any guy that comes in and knows the tradition and history of the Pittsburgh Steelers it started with him."

Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowls, died Friday night in his Pittsburgh-area home at the age of 82. His passing has produced a torrent of heartfelt testimonials, from former players and Pittsburgh civic leaders to those who covered the Steelers when Noll transformed teams that had been perennial also-rans into the ones that won four Super Bowls from 1974-79.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, lowered its flag to half-staff on Saturday in honor of Noll.

Noll's funeral will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET at St. Paul's Cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger, who has led the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl victories, said he met Noll one time early in his career.

But he added, "That's family. As everyone knows around here Steelers family is Steelers family. Whether you met him once or never met him or knew him well it's a tragic loss for everybody so our thoughts and prayers are with him and Steelers nation."

Roethlisberger said Noll continues to impact the Steelers even though he retired in 1991.

"Look at what he did and what he's done for the Pittsburgh Steelers' organization," Roethlisberger said. "I think I saw a quote from Mr. (Dan) Rooney saying that he made the Steelers who they are. People that know football know how special he was. His legacy is why we play today."

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