Pittsburgh Steelers: Jerry Olsavsky

This is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question for the pre-training camp mailbag that will run Friday, the day the Steelers report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go... @ScottBrown_ESPN: There is no question the Steelers' situation at running back is much more promising going into this season. Le'Veon Bell, for one, should be better after starting 13 games as a rookie in 2013 and getting used to the speed of the game at this level. Just as significant is the Steelers are much better equipped to deal with an injury to Bell as LeGarrette Blount has proven he can be an effective workhorse. If Bell and Blount stay healthy, they should make for a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Rookie Dri Archer complements the two with his explosive speed, and his versatility should allow offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be creative in using the third-round draft pick. I'm real curious to see how the Steelers divvy up the touches among their three running backs. And I'm hard-pressed to think of a position where the Steelers have done more to improve themselves, at least on paper.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The speculation about Harrison re-signing with the Steelers has been fueled almost entirely by Harrison himself -- and the perceived need that the Steelers have at outside linebacker. The former five-time Pro Bowler made no secret of his desire to return to Pittsburgh during the offseason, and I don't think it has been ruled out by the Steelers. I would not, however, expect anything to happen on that front before the start of training camp. The Steelers want to see what they have at outside linebacker in Latrobe, and the reality that they have gotten younger at defense doesn't bode well for Harrison coming back for a second stint with the team. One injury at a position where the Steelers are not particularly deep could change everything and lead to Harrison donning the black and gold again.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Don't forget about Jerry Olsavsky, who is entering his fifth season with the Steelers and reportedly drew consideration from the Buffalo Bills when they had an opening for a linebackers coach. I would think Olsavsky is next in line if and when current linebackers coach Keith Butler succeeds Dick LeBeau as the Steelers' defensive coordinator. That said, Joey Porter is very serious about coaching and making a career out of it. This is not a case of a former player taking a shot at coaching as he tries to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Porter's passion and willingness to learn from the rest of the coaches' on the Steelers' staff could put him on a fast track. And former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has said he thinks Porter could be a head coach in the NFL one day. The Steelers would love nothing more than for Porter to rise through the coaching ranks in Pittsburgh, but it will require patience on his part.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I'm tempted to say Ryan Shazier because I think the first-round pick could emerge as a real playmaker on defense. Whether Shazier has the nastiness that defined the players you mentioned, however, remains to be seen. Defensive end Cameron Heyward, as outgoing as he is away from the field, seems to have that in him, and I think he is going to assume a real leadership role this season. It wouldn't surprise me a bit, in fact, if Heyward's teammates vote him a captain. The former first-round pick is well aware of the Steelers' history and how rooted it is in hard-hitting defense. Heyward also knows the Steelers have to re-establish that fear factor on defense, and he is in a position to help them do so after breaking out with five sacks and 31 quarterback pressures last season.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: That is a great question and perhaps the biggest one I have when it comes to the Steelers' backfield. Are there going to be enough carries to keep both Bell and Blount happy and make Archer a viable threat in the offense and not just a gimmick? It is easy in May and June to envision all kind of scenarios in which the Steelers get their three running backs involved in the offense. But the reality is the Steelers averaged just under 64 plays per game in 2013 and this has increasingly become a passing league. My concerns with the Steelers keeping their top two running backs happy are tempered by the fast friendship formed by Bell and Blount, as well as the former's versatility. Bell can be utilized as a weapon in the passing game and his receiving skills could allow the Steelers to play him and Blount and at the same time in different packages. I think Blount should get around eight carries per game but that could mean four to five one week and 10-12 the next. 

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.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers moved quickly to fill former running backs coach Kirby Wilson’s spot on the coaching staff.

And James Saxon is essentially trading places with Wilson.

The Steelers announced Saxon’s hiring on Tuesday afternoon, two days after Wilson accepted the latter’s old job with the Minnesota Vikings.

Saxon spent the previous three seasons coaching Minnesota’s running backs, and he was not retained after the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer as their head coach last week.

Saxon joins offensive line coach Mike Munchak as the newest members of Mike Tomlin’s coaching staff and Tomlin’s staff is complete -- for now.

The Steelers confirmed they have given defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky permission to interview with the Buffalo, and Olsavsky is a candidate to become the Bills’ next linebackers coach.

Wilson, who interviewed with Baltimore last week, took a job with the Vikings after the Ravens informed him that he was no longer in the running for their offensive coordinator job.

Like Wilson, Saxon is well-traveled and has extensive experience.

Saxon is in his 23rd year in the NFL as a coach or player, and he has coached running backs in the NFL since 2000.

Saxon, following a one-year stint with the Buffalo Bills, coached in Kansas City (2001-07), Miami (2008-10) and Minnesota before joining the Steelers.

He played eight seasons in the NFL and rushed for 553 yards and five touchdowns while playing for three teams.

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.