Pittsburgh Steelers: Gary Kubiak

PITTSBURGH -- Fallout from the Ravens' release of running back Ray Rice on Monday -- and his indefinite banishment from the NFL for domestic abuse -- has prompted questions of whether it will distract Baltimore as it prepares for the first of its two games with Pittsburgh.

And on a short week no less.

But Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said the siege mentality that has probably taken root at the Ravens' practice facility could actually bring Baltimore's players closer together -- and sharpen their focus on the 8:30 p.m. ET game Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It's probably chaotic over there," Heyward said, "but you've just got to stay together as a team, focus on the task at hand and just continue to grow."

The Steelers did that a season before Heyward joined the team.

They played the first four games in 2010 without Ben Roethlisberger and closed ranks when the four-game suspension of the Steelers quarterback added TV cameras at the team's practice facility.

The Steelers went 3-1 without Roethlisberger, and only a late touchdown drive that Joe Flacco engineered at Heinz Field prevented them from winning all four games.

One reason the Steelers were able to play so well at the beginning of 2010 is they had ample time to prepare for the opening stretch without Roethlisberger. A dominant defense that took it upon itself to carry the team while Roethlisberger was out didn't hurt either.

The same holds true for the Ravens -- at least the part about preparing for the first part of the season without Rice.

"The simple fact (is) nothing changes because we knew he wasn't going to be able to play this week," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

Indeed, Rice had been suspended for the first two games of the season before this week's video surfaced. It's not like his release has led to even longer hours this week for coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The Rice saga will only bring the Ravens closer together, as counterintuitive as it seems that a distraction could actually galvanize a team.

If the Ravens lose Thursday night, it won't be because of Rice.

"It definitely kind of blindsided us," Suggs said. "Ray is our brother and we're not going to abandon him internally now. We still have a job to do. The season must go on and we're getting ready to play the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Tracking AFC North coaching changes

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
PITTSBURGH -- Staggering might be a bit strong when looking at the amount of coaching turnover that has taken place in the AFC North.

But there has been a lot of it in the last six weeks, which leads me to a story even if it does poke fun at yours truly.

I decided to recap all of the coaching changes in the division, reaching out to the other ESPN.com AFC North reporters about the comings and goings on their respective teams.

Here is the response I got from ESPN.com Brown reporter (and noted nemesis of mine) Pat McManamon: Um ... Scott ... except for special teams coach, they've changed the entire staff.

Uh, yeah, would make sense that a new head coach hires his own staff. I appreciated Pat not calling me stupid though I'm pretty sure he implied it (Pat, I must be getting too much sun here in Pittsburgh).

But I digress. Here is an update on the coaching staffs in the AFC North (teams in order of 2013 finish).

Cincinnati Bengals
What has changed: The Bengals have two new coordinators, Hue Jackson (offense) and Paul Guenther (defense), after Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer left for head coaching jobs.
Most significant hire: Guenther. Zimmer, who left for Minnesota, had been a widely respected coordinator. The Bengals finished no worse than seventh in the NFL in total defense in each of the previous three seasons, Guenther, who was promoted from linebackers coach to take over for Zimmer, has said he will call plays with the same aggressiveness that defined his predecessor.
Skinny: Head coach Marvin Lewis stayed in-house to replace both coordinators, and Jackson is expected to emphasize the run more, something the Bengals got away from in their playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. Look for Jackson to take better advantage of Giovani Bernard, who flashed as a rookie and should get more touches after splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers
What has changed: Mike Munchak is the new offensive line coach, and the Steelers essentially traded running backs coaches with the Vikings with Kirby Wilson joining Zimmer's new staff in Minnesota and James Saxon replacing Wilson.
Most significant hire: Munchak. The Pro Football Hall of Famer becomes the third former head coach who is now an assistant on Tomlin's staff, and there are incredibly high hopes for him. His credentials as a player and an offensive line coach make this one of Tomlin's best hires -- and one that Steelers' fans appear to be unanimous in applauding.
Skinny: Tomlin's staff for 2014 appears to be set. Defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky was a candidate to become the linebackers coach in Buffalo but that position has been filled. Munchak is expected to institute a zone-blocking scheme and there may not be a more qualified person on the planet to teach it. I've written how Le'Veon Bell could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the zone-blocking scheme. Here is what former Titans tight end and current radio talk show host Frank Wyche told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Bell in that scheme: "He's going to run the ball like Eddie George did for us."

Baltimore Ravens
What has changed: John Harbaugh made plenty of changes after the Ravens went 8-8 and missed the playoffs a season after winning the Super Bowl. Gary Kubiak is the new offensive coordinator and Rick Dennison, has followed Kubiak to Baltimore. Dennison, the Texans' offensive coordinator for the previous four seasons under Kubiak, will coach the Ravens' quarterbacks
Most significant hire: Kubiak. The former Texans head coach wasn't among the three finalists for the offensive coordinator job, but Harbaugh convinced him to join his staff. Kubiak's biggest challenge is reviving a ground attack that mustered just 3.0 yards per carry in 2013, the worst in the NFL. The Texans always seemed to be able to run the ball during Kubiak's tenure in Houston so he is probably the right coach to fix the Ravens' broken ground game.
The skinny: Harbaugh now has two former NFL head coaches on his staff with assistant head coach/secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo joining Kubiak in that distinction. There are still openings at running backs coach and wide receivers coach to fill. When Harbaugh has finished rounding out his staff he will have made six changes to it. The previous high as far as coaches Harbaugh had to replace in an offseason was four in 2011.

Cleveland Browns
What has changed: Well, just about everything and yet not much at all to jaded Browns fans. Cleveland dumped Rob Chudzinski after just one season. What seemed like an interminable search for his successor turned up former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who didn't appear to be on any other teams' radar as far as head-coaching candidates. Former Bills linebackers coach Jim O'Neil is the new defensive coordinator while former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now holds the same position in Cleveland.
Most significant hire: After Pettine, it is Shanahan. The former will be tasked with grooming the quarterback of the future and getting more out of an offense that has a legitimate star in wide receiver Josh Gordon but is lacking overall at the skill positions. The Browns have two first-round draft picks, including No. 4 overall, this year and they figure to take a quarterback with one of those selections.
The skinny: The Pettine hire didn't inspire much hope among Browns fans so add that to the list of things working against him in Cleveland. The Browns might have been able to lure defensive coordinator Dan Quinn away from Seattle had they waited longer to hire Chudzinski's replacement. That too will loom over Pettine's first season in Cleveland, especially if his results are similar to the ones that got Chudzinski fired.

LaMarr Woodley pulling for Lynch

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
Steel City wake-up: morning links

The last time the Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl tight end Jerramy Stevens made headlines for inciting a war of words with Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter.

This time a Seahawks player is making news for what he isn't saying.

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has been a most reluctant participant in the media sessions that are mandatory for the players and coaches on each team.

Lynch has said very little and candidly admitted the only reason he has shown up for the media scrums is so he won't get fined. Lynch has received some criticism for not cooperating more with the media during the sessions, but among those who have defended the Pro Bowl back are Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

Woodley, while appearing on the BET's 106 & Park on Wednesday, predicted that the Seahawks will beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. He also said he will be pulling for Seattle on Sunday because of his friendship with Lynch.

"He's been getting a lot of [criticism] talking about how he don't do no media stuff, but he's a great dude," Woodley said. "He comes out to my football camp every year. He's great with the kids. Everybody loves him and I want to see him get a ring."
  • Jerome Bettis got his ring when the Steelers beat Stevens' Seahawks in the 2005 Super Bowl and then rolled triumphantly into retirement. "The Bus" has yet to pull into Canton, Ohio, but that could change Saturday. Bettis is among 15 modern-day finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and this should be the year he achieves football immortality.
  • Steelers.com's Teresa Varley caught up with Bill Cowher, and the former Steelers coach is among those who are lobbying for Bettis to make it into the Hall of Fame on his fourth try.
  • Here is a clip I meant to post earlier of Bettis and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen appearing together on ESPN's "SportsCenter." The two talked Pittsburgh and didn't limit their discussion to sports.
  • From the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette writes that the Seahawks' success could have a similar on impact on Seattle as the Steelers' rise in the 1970s did on Pittsburgh.
  • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly examines a significant shift in Mike Tomlin's philosophy when it comes to hiring assistant coaches.

And around the rest of the AFC North...
  • ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley has been busy tracking the additions and subtractions on John Harbaugh's coaching staff. Hensley ponders the influence new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak could have as Harbaugh fills the remaining openings on his staff.
  • ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon writes about Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase -- and how his focus on his current job prevented him from becoming a serious candidate for the head-coaching position that Cleveland filled last week.
  • ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey takes a look at how injuries to defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall shaped Cincinnati's season.

Another Steelers coach on the move?

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
Steel City wake-up: morning links

There could be more turnover on the Steelers’ coaching staff.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reports that defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky will interview with the Buffalo Bills for the job of linebackers coach.

Dulac also offers his take on the departure of running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who has accepted the same job with the Minnesota Vikings. I have heard there was some friction between offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Wilson, but that the latter’s desire to leave probably had as much to do with getting more of an opportunity somewhere else.

The shame of Wilson’s departure isn’t as much that the Steelers are losing one of the better coaches on their staff and one who was widely respected in the organization. Rather, Wilson would have received strong consideration to become the Steelers’ offensive coordinator in 2012 after the organization did not renew Bruce Arians’ contract.
  • From the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette takes a look at Denver’s John Fox, who learned a few lessons from the legendary Chuck Noll while in Pittsburgh.
  • From Baltimore, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley is no longer covering the search for an offensive coordinator. And so much for the four finalists that the Ravens announced last week. Hensley writes about former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who is joining John Harbaugh’s staff.
  • From Cleveland, ESPN.com’s Pat McManamon is no longer covering a coaching search but he is still tracking the staff that Mike Pettine is putting together.
  • I talked to ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former NFL scout, on Monday and he had some interesting things to say about the Steelers. Among the positions he thinks are the team's biggest draft need? Defensive end. Williamson doesn't expect Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel to return unless the latter comes back at what would essentially be the minimum salary for a 10-plus year veteran. More from Williamson throughout the week.