NFL Nation: Maurkice Pouncey

PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey corrected a reporter when asked if the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised for a bounce back season.

Pouncey
“The bounce back should have been last year,” the Pro Bowl center said.

Pouncey could only watch helplessly last season as the Steelers lost their first four games for the first time since 1968 on the way to a second consecutive 8-8 season.

Pouncey tore his ACL eight snaps into the season, and there initially was so much swelling that he couldn’t even travel with the team. Despite that -- and Pouncey having to watch home games on the sidelines -- the fifth-year veteran was around the team enough to know that he doesn’t want to experience another somber September at Steelers headquarters.

“You lose four in a row, everything’s different at work,” Pouncey said. “You come in and everybody’s on the edge and nobody really has a smile on their face.”

Nothing would do more to wipe the collective smiles off the Steelers’ faces than a loss Sunday against the visiting Browns.

The Steelers haven’t lost to the Browns in Pittsburgh since 2003 and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to Cleveland at Heinz Field. An end to both trends would be particularly disheartening to the Steelers considering their next two games are on the road and the specter of last year’s start hangs over the team.

“Everybody’s talked about it,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “If you were here last year that’s all that’s on your mind. It’s almost [talked about] too much.”

The best way the Steelers can end such talk is to beat an AFC North foe that is almost a touchdown underdog on Sunday.

“It’s one of those things where you can go back down that avenue,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said of the 0-4 start in 2013. “That has to be the mentality.”
PITTSBURGH -- Finalizing the 53-man roster before 4 p.m. ET Saturday is the Pittsburgh Steelers' top priority.

It might also be their last major order of business before the start of the regular season.

Worilds
Team president Art Rooney II told ESPN.com that there is a good chance that the Steelers won’t sign any more of their players to long-term deals before next year.

The Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham to new long-term contracts since June.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen remain the only starters who are candidates to receive new deals. The Steelers don't negotiate player contracts during the regular season, so it would be an understatement to say that the clock is ticking.

"There’s probably a chance we’ll do one more contract," Rooney said. "I don’t know if we will get it done or not, but we’re pretty much done with the signing process as we’re heading into the season."

Worilds is probably the odd man out even if the Steelers sign one more player to a new long-term contract before Sept. 7.

The fifth-year veteran will make $9.754 million in 2014 after signing the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on him in March, and the Steelers might not be willing to offer the kind of multi-year deal to make it worth it for Worilds to pass up making nearly $10 million this season.

The Steelers will still have some measure of control when it comes to Worilds’ rights even if they don’t sign him to a new contract before the start of the regular season.

They can tag Worilds again next year, which would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NFL year starts.

The Steelers appear to be content to see if Worilds can build on his strong second half from last season and then decide whether they are ready to commit to the former second-round draft pick long term.

Allen is the more likely of the two to sign a new contract becausee it might be more feasible -- and palatable -- for the Steelers from a financial standpoint.

Allen, whose cap hit is $1.529 million this season, is a promising young cornerback who has yet to put it together for an entire season. His signing a long-term contract would provide security for both Allen and the Steelers, who are thin at cornerback.

Given where the respective sides are coming from, it seems a lot more likely that Allen, not Worilds, and the Steelers find common ground on a new deal before the organization shuts down contract negotiations until next year.

Pouncey, Polamalu crack top 100

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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PITTSBURGH -- Two more Pittsburgh Steelers surfaced on ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 NFL players for both offense and defense.

Pouncey
Polamalu
Center Maurkice Pouncey is No. 42 on offense and strong safety Troy Polamalu is No. 46 on defense.

Polamalu dropped 13 spots from his 2013 ESPN.com ranking after the Steelers slipped to No. 13 in total defense last season, when they had trouble stopping the run and were vulnerable to big plays. Polamalu still made his eighth Pro Bowl in 2013 after finishing third on the Steelers with 85 tackles, forcing a career-high five fumbles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions.

Polamalu, who is entering his 12th season, played every snap last season.

Pouncey, was on the other end of the spectrum in 2013, missing all but eight snaps after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

The three-time Pro Bowler was hurt when teammate David DeCastro crashed into his lower leg after missing a cut block in the Steelers’ season opener against the visiting Tennessee Titans.

Pouncey has since made a full recovery, and the Steelers signed the fifth-year veteran to a five-year, $44 million contract in June, making him one of the highest paid players at his position.

Pouncey, who moved up 12 spots from his 2013 ranking, is ahead of centers such as Carolina's Ryan Kalil (No. 47) and the the Jets' Nick Mangold (No. 49).
LATROBE, Pa. -- A seemingly forgotten linebacker has hit harder than some of the storms that swept through the area during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first week of training camp.

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

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

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

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

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

OBSERVATION DECK

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

Steelers Camp Report: Day 7

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

Mitchell
Mitchell, the Steelers’ most significant signing this offseason, and running back Alvester Alexander have been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Alexander, who spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, is also nursing an injured groin.

Both can come off the PUP list at any time, and coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers expect Mitchell to be sidelined for the first week of training camp.

“We’ll monitor him day to day,” Tomlin said late Friday afternoon.

Two Steelers players did not report to camp by the 4 p.m. ET deadline and each was excused by the team. Punter Adam Podlesh is staying with his wife until she gives birth to their child, and starting left guard Ramon Foster is coping with the death of his mother.

Tomlin did not give a timetable for the return of either player.

Tomlin addressed the media after the Steelers’ conditioning test, and he seemed pleased with his first look at the players since the end of offseason practices.

“I like the look in the eye of the group,” the eighth-year coach said, “and the way that they performed at the run test was impressive.”

Also of note from Tomlin’s first news conference of training camp.
  • Tomlin plans on running a physical camp after watching the players take part in non-contact practices during the offseason.

    “I enjoyed the spring and summer, but that’s the spring and summer. Now that we’re here in training camp we’re going to do what we do in this type of setting, which is compete,” Tomlin said.

    When asked if there will be tackling, Tomlin smiled.

    “Absolutely,” he said. “See you on Monday.”

    Monday is the first that that the Steelers are allowed to practice in full pads and hits. The team will conduct non-contract practices on Saturday and Sunday, something that is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Tomlin said he won’t take a slower approach to installing the playbook despite the Steelers’ youth, particularly on defense.

    “We expect those guys to catch up. It’s professional football, they don’t have an academic workload to worry about,” Tomlin said. “Obviously we’re willing to adjust when it’s time to play football in September. It’s just smart football to do what your guys are capable of doing, but as we step into Latrobe we do not have that mentality. We need to see what they’re capable of handling. And in order to so that we’re going to install at our normal pace.”
  • Center Maurkice Pouncey won’t be eased into practice even though he is still less than a year removed from tearing the ACL in his right knee.

    The Steelers gave Pouncey periodic days off during the offseason practices as a precaution, but Tomlin said the three-time Pro Bowler won’t be limited in camp.

    “He’s ready to go,” Tomlin said.
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 -- 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 -- The tears that made it hard for Maurkice Pouncey to talk Thursday afternoon also cut short what should have been a celebratory news conference.

Emotion choked the Pittsburgh Steelers center, and it emanated from the day last September when a teammate crashed into his right knee and left Pouncey in the kind of pain that made him wonder if he would ever walk well enough to play football again -- or at least at a high level.

What also had to overwhelm Pouncey: Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin all attended the official announcement of the five-year contract extension he signed nine months after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Their presence as much as the new deal that could be worth as much as $44 million, affirmed to Pouncey that he is a Steeler.

And there is a difference between that and playing for the Steelers.

“It’s true love here,” Pouncey said shortly after the Steelers concluded organized team activities. “I’ll do anything for this team and I’m ready to lead us to where we’ve got to get back to.”

The Steelers concluded that Pouncey is one of the keys to them re-establishing themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

They made a bold move with the contract that is now the most lucrative for a center in the NFL.

They also made the correct move in locking up Pouncey long-term after the Jaguars had raised the ante at the position by signing Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million contract (the Browns later matched it to retain Mack).

Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. His teammates respect him so much that they voted Pouncey a captain last season, not much more than a month after he had celebrated his 24th birthday. And Pouncey is the kind of player you build around on the offensive line, especially if your goal is to maximize Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a top-tier quarterback, something that Colbert has stated.

Questions have been raised about Pouncey and whether the 2010 first-round pick is prone to injury. But he had missed just three regular-season games prior to 2013.

And the injuries he suffered in the Steelers’ season opener were a result of nothing more than rotten luck, as friendly fire took Pouncey out after right guard David DeCastro whiffed on an attempted cut block.

The Steelers are obviously comfortable with Pouncey’s injury history as well as where he is from a health standpoint nine months after hurting his right knee. Pouncey’s teammates, meanwhile, were nothing short of ecstatic about his new deal.

And not because Pouncey is likely to pick up the next couple of dinner tabs.

“He worked his butt off so we’re glad to have the team commit to him like that,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re more excited than he is about it.”

Just not as emotional.

“I was just telling coach (Tomlin) it seems like five years all over again, and I’m ready to start this path and help this team get back to where we need to,” said Pouncey, who turns 25 the day before the Steelers report to training camp. “This is really an awesome feeling and words can’t really say enough about it.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers again worked on their no-huddle offense Thursday, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appears to have more peace of mind about the attack than he did a couple of weeks ago.

“I think everybody’s doing a good job and that we can get back on track pretty quick,” Roethlisberger said following the Steelers’ final practice of this week.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger expressed some reservation about the no-huddle offense at the start of organized team activities. He said how much the Steelers use the attack that worked so well for them last season would depend on how quickly the new wide receivers became comfortable with it.

So far, so good on that front, said Roethlisberger, who added that the Steelers have worked more on their no-huddle offense in OTAs than they have in past years when it comes to the voluntary practices.

“I think it’s something that we’ve realized what we can be and what we did last year,” Roethlisberger said on one of the nicest days of the year in Pittsburgh. “We’ll use it more. I don’t want to call it our base offense but I think you’ll see more of it so I think it was important for us to get in it early and often.”

Roethlisberger, running the no-huddle offense at the end of practice, led the Steelers on a scoring drive that he capped with a short touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. It was a good way for the first-team offense to end practice, especially since Will Allen had stopped an earlier drive when the veteran safety intercepted a Roethlisberger pass along the left sideline.

“I thought it was a good play and Will came and picked it off,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re not going to score on every series that we go no-huddle.”

Also of note from Thursday’s OTA session:
  • Roethlisberger didn’t bite when asked about the six-year, $110 million contact that quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed with the San Francisco 49ers. “Congratulations to him and his family and the 49ers franchise,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re on opposite sides of the coast. I’m over here just worried about being a Steeler and that’s all that matters with me. It’s just about getting better out here with these guys.” Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract – the same number he had left on his rookie deal when he signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008. The Steelers are expected to sign their franchise quarterback to a new deal at some point though nothing is imminent.
  • Center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Markus Wheaton were among the players who didn’t practice on Thursday. Fullback Will Johnson was out of the walking boot he wore Wednesday but he watched practice on Thursday, as did tight end Michael Palmer. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who is nursing a calf injury, spent part of the practice riding a stationary bike.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers start another round of organized team activities today.

That means three more full-squad practices this week.

And a leap of faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You start thinking about (getting hurt) and you start playing slow and you can't be yourself, you can't make plays," Jones said. "You start playing slow and now you're getting in other people's way and that could create injuries. If it happens, it happens, you've just got to deal with it. Hopefully all of us can stay healthy throughout these practices."
PITTSBURGH -- Most of the practices that Maurkice Pouncey watched after an errant block wrecked his knee -- and his 2013 season -- were with a crutch under each arm pit.

Pouncey
Juxtapose that sight with Pouncey running without the slightest trace of a limp in his first practice since last September and the Pittsburgh Steelers had to be thrilled with what they saw Tuesday during the team's first OTA practice.

Even if Troy Polamalu wasn't there.

That Pouncey appears to have made a full recovery after tearing his right ACL last September is big on several levels.

First and foremost, the Steelers have a decision when it comes to Pouncey.

The only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons is entering the final year of his contract. If the Steelers had any lingering doubts about signing Pouncey to a long-term deal -- he is slated to make $5.264 million in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- they should be gone after Pouncey looked as good as new during the team's first offseason practice.

Pouncey, in fact, could be the first player that the Steelers sign to a long-term extension.

That is how important he is to the Steelers, which bring us to another reason why his return to health is so critical for a team that has gone 8-8 in each of the last two seasons.

The offense really came together in the second half of last season and the Steelers averaged more than 28 points in their final nine games.

Ben Roethlisberger is back to lead an offense that is brimming with speed and talent at the skill positions. He will also benefit from playing behind a line that allowed just seven sacks in the Steelers' final seven games and essentially adds a Pro Bowl center in Pouncey -- he played just eight snaps last season -- as well as arguably the best offensive line coach in the NFL in Mike Munchak.

If the line can stay relatively healthy, something that has rarely happened during coack Mike Tomlin's tenure, there is no telling how good the offense can be.

And that is according to no less an authority than Roethlisberger.

“If the line can play to the potential that we think and know they can then I think we can be as good [offensively] as anybody,” Roethlisberger said.

It all starts with Pouncey up front.

And that is why his teammates were all smiles when asked about his return to the playing field if only for a late-May practice.

“It's an honor to have our captain back to control the ball on every snap,” Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “I am just thankful he is back on the field healthy.”

Steelers offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
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With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsSigning Mike Mitchell gives the Steelers another speedy playmaker in the secondary.
Best move: The Steelers wasted little time in getting younger and faster in the secondary as they landed former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell on the first day of free agency. Mitchell, who turns only 27 next month, blossomed last season in Carolina as he intercepted four passes and recorded 3.5 sacks. He gives the Steelers a playmaker to pair with Troy Polamalu on the back of their defense. And Mitchell was cost-effective for a team that had limited room under the salary cap. Only $5.25 million of the five-year $25 million deal that Mitchell signed is guaranteed, and the contract is backloaded to make it cap friendly.

Riskiest move: The Steelers shopped more than usual in free agency, but they added only one player to their defensive line while losing defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. Cam Thomas, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract, would ideally fill Woods’ role as a swing man between nose tackle and defensive end. But right now he is the Steelers’ best option at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. The Steelers need second-round pick Stephon Tuitt to develop quickly and at least play in a rotation at defensive end. They would also be wise to keep Brett Keisel’s number handy.

Most surprising move: The Steelers didn’t draft a cornerback until the fifth round, and that is a position where they have only one long-term starter in Cortez Allen. The prevailing thought prior to the draft was that the Steelers would take a cornerback early and select two of them. Shaquille Richardson, their fifth-round pick, and free-agent signee Brice McCain are the only addition they have made at cornerback. That means the Steelers better be right that the answers at cornerback are already in their building,

What’s next: The Steelers appear to be done adding -- for now -- and most of the $8 million they'll receive in salary cap savings after June from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will be used to sign draft picks. They have a handful of players going into the final year of their contracts that they should try to sign to long-term deals. The list includes center Maurkice Pouncey, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and Allen. The Steelers could also try to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract, though nothing is imminent on that front. The Steelers may wait until after the 2014 to sign Roethlisberger to a new deal since he still has two years left on his contract.
PITTSBURGH -- A lot of Steelers fans probably won’t like to hear this: Kevin Colbert said the team won’t go into the NFL draft expecting to land an immediate starter.

“I don’t think we can say that there’s going to be an impact guy that’s going to come in and be a starter,” the Steelers general manager said on Monday. “I think they’ll certainly be able to compete and maybe to contribute in some of the sub-packages and they’ll continue to develop."

Such a conservative outlook for the players the Steelers will draft this week is seemingly at odds with Colbert’s assessment of how deep and talented this class is. But it is actually consistent with the approach the Steelers take with the players they draft.

No matter how much it frustrates fans, the Steelers firmly – or stubbornly, depending on your vantage point – stick to the philosophy that it is better to be too patient with a rookie rather than to rush him.

Not that there haven’t been exceptions as far as rookies playing right away and not just on special teams.

Center Maurkice Pouncey established himself as a starter before the start of his first NFL season in 2010 and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones started eight games last season while running back Le'Veon Bell started as soon as he was healthy.

But the Steelers will go into the 2014 season expecting major contributions from second-year players such as Jones, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and safety Shamarko Thomas -- and hoping they don’t have to rely too heavily on the players they draft later this week.

"Depending on how mature [the rookies] are and how smart they are I think will determine how quick they contribute more than their talent," Colbert said. "There’s still going to be some growing that’s going to have to happen.”

Colbert said the Steelers have ruled out a couple of positions as far as addressing with their first-round pick if they stay at No. 15 overall. If they trade down, Colbert said, any position is in play with the Steelers’ first pick.

When asked if the Steelers are less likely to take an outside linebacker with their first-round pick since they used their top selection on Jones last year Colbert said, “Not if they’re a great player.”
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum wasn’t even 5 years old when Mike Munchak played in his final football game in 1993. But Beachum knows enough about NFL history that he didn’t need to do any research after the Steelers hired Munchak to coach their offensive line.

“He’s one of those guys you don’t have to go to Google and read about him,” Beachum said. “You know about him already.”

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
AP Photo/Wade Payne"The guy is no-nonsense. He wants to get the job done," Steelers offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said of Mike Munchak.
Beachum distilled the impact of Munchak's credentials into two words: “Instant credibility.”

In a Steelers offseason marked by additions – and subtractions – Munchak could prove to be the most significant one.

The Steelers have yet field an offensive line under coach Mike Tomlin that can consistently take over games. That could change with Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and also a highly regarded offensive line coach.

The former Titans head coach will mold and lead a promising group that returns four starters as well as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.

“The guy is no-nonsense,” Beachum said. “He wants to get the job done. He has guys in the offensive line are hungry to win and to go out and prove that this is an offensive line that can really carry this team. He’s already had a presence in the room since we’ve met with him a couple of times as an offensive line.”

Munchak is still early in the process of getting to know his new players -- and vice versa -- and he has to be encouraged with the potential of a group that won’t have a starter over 28 this season and only allowed seven sacks in the Steelers’ final seven games in 2013.

Beachum said the line has met with Munchak several times and that the terminology won’t change much. That should ease the transition to a new position coach for the players.

Munchak is expected to implement an outside zone-blocking scheme, something the Steelers abandoned after Pouncey tore his ACL eight plays into the 2013 season, but Beachum said, “I think we’re still going to be varied a little bit, the inside zone and the outside zone and still using the gap scheme. I’m looking to the running game just really taking off in general.”

The offensive line, too.

“To have a Hall of Famer in the room really just speaks volumes because he’s played the game,” Beachum said of Munchak. “He knows what you’re going through, he knows what to expect, he knows you’re going to get beat sometimes, which is part of the National Football League. Then he also knows how to excel. He’s done it a very high level. He’s known for it, and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the room and I know he will.”

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