Pittsburgh Steelers: Kevin Colbert

Wow, a ton of questions. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.

And away we go...

@ScottBrown_ESPN Yes, but I thought they would last year and the Steelers waited until the fifth round to pick a cornerback -- and Shaquille Richardson, the first of two fifth-round picks made by the Steelers in 2014, is no longer with the organization. The second round might be the perfect place to take a cornerback this year. ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay said recently that there are a lot of talented cornerbacks in the draft but that a lot of them have varying issues that could drop them into the second round. One thing to remember, too, is that the Steelers have not used a first-round pick on a cornerback since Chad Scott in 1997. If all things are equal I think they take an outside linebacker over a cornerback in the first round. @ScottBrown_ESPN I'm sure general manager Kevin Colbert will say the Steelers are open to trading up or down with their first-round pick. He does every year. Is it likely? Probably not. The Steelers have not traded down in the first round since 2001 when they moved from No. 16 to No. 19 and still got Casey Hampton as well as fourth- and sixth-round picks from the New York Jets. One thing to keep an eye on, though, is where the Steelers are picking in the first round. They are No. 22 overall and that could be a spot that interests a team that needs a quarterback but doesn't want to take one in the top 10. Demand always seems to exceed supply when it comes to quarterbacks. And a team looking to trade back into the first round for a quarterback might be willing to give up the package of picks that would entice the Steelers to move out of the first round. @ScottBrown_ESPN McPhee might be out of their price range if he hits the open market. The Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker is only 26 years old and he recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014 despite playing behind Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. If I'm Baltimore, I sign McPhee to a long-term contract since Suggs isn't getting any younger -- or at least use a transition tag on him to prevent the fourth-year veteran from hitting the open market. Sheard seems like he has regressed since recorded 15.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. Sheard had just two sacks for the Cleveland Browns last season so he would be less expensive than McPhee but more of a risk strictly from a playing standpoint. The Steelers would have to be convinced they can get more out of Sheard to have serious interest him. @ScottBrown_ESPN The eighth-year coach is heavily involved with the draft process. Tomlin is a self-described "draft geek" and the draft is anything but a necessary evil to him. That is why Tomlin has to answer for some of the questionable draft picks that Steelers have made in recent years as much as general manager Kevin Colbert. By all accounts, Colbert and Tomlin work well together, and my guess is that Colbert has final say in draft choices, though Tomlin has heavy input in every pick. Both need to do a better job given all of the needs that the Steelers have on defense. @ScottBrown_ESPN Mitchell isn't going anywhere. Coach Mike Tomlin made that clear when he said at his final news conference of 2014 that Mitchell's play improved as the season progressed and that the "arrow is pointing up" for the free safety. I think Mitchell will be a lot better next season -- and he better be if he wants a long-term future with the Steelers. My biggest question with Mitchell is whether he is miscast as a free safety. His seems to play with the sensibilities of a strong safety and maybe Mitchell is the successor to Troy Polamalu at the position. Wherever he plays in 2015, Mitchell will be one of the Steelers' most improved players if he stays healthy. @ScottBrown_ESPN Very. I honestly don't understand the questions about coach Mike Tomlin's job security. Eight seasons into his head-coaching career, Tomlin has won four AFC North titles, two AFC titles and a Super Bowl. He has also yet to have a losing season. Couple his record with the Steelers' history of patience with head coaches -- they have had three of them since 1969 -- and it is ludicrous to think Tomlin is going anywhere anytime soon. I understand fans' frustration with Tomlin on several levels but that would be the same with any coach who doesn't take them to the Super Bowl every season. Tomlin accepts that and actually embraces how high the bar has been set for the Steelers. @ScottBrown_ESPN Richardson is no longer with the team and Blanchflower spent all season on the Steelers' practice squad. Archer, meanwhile, lost his job as primary kickoff returner during the season and the Steelers never took advantage of his world-class speed after taking him in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft. Part of the problem with that is with players like wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell on the Steelers, Archer is going to get limited touches. But if he doesn't make the most of those next season or emerge as a game-breaking kickoff returner Archer is going to look like a luxury pick the Steelers couldn't afford as they continue to re-tool their defense. @ScottBrown_ESPN I do think we have seen the last of Troy Polamalu in a Steelers uniform -- even if he wants to play in 2015. Polamalu himself said after the Steelers' AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens that it was fair to question whether he has played his last game in Pittsburgh. And that was before the Steelers parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to retire as a Steeler. But considering that the Steelers essentially fired LeBeau, they won't hesitate to make a tough decision when it comes to Polamalu if they think that is best for the organization.
Great questions, and I got enough of them that a second mailbag will be posted later today. If you have a Pittsburgh Steelers question, please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN:.

And away we go ...

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I had a chance to talk to running backs coach James Saxon last week, and he said he is happy with Dri Archer and how he works. Saxon also said he does not think Archer's confidence has been shaken despite how sparingly the rookie has played. I don't think there is any question though the Steelers expected more out of Archer. After the Steelers raised some eyebrows by using a third-round draft pick on the scatback, general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers viewed Archer as a starter because of his ability to return kicks. Well, Archer lost his job as the primary kickoff return and is only No. 2 behind Markus Wheaton because the Steelers waived LeGarrette Blount. The release of Blount provides an opportunity for Archer behind starting running back Le'Veon Bell and it will be interesting to see if he can take advantage of it -- and if the Steelers can figure out a way to put his world-class speed to use by getting him the ball in open space.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I'm a little miffed that Stephon Tuitt, who played just four snaps in a 27-24 win against the Tennessee Titans, has not gotten on the field more. But I don't think it is a reflection of a lack of growth on his part as much as the reality that Tuitt is simply blocked right now. The second-round pick is best suited right now to play in the nickel defense, but that would mean taking Cameron Heyward or Brett Keisel off the field when the Steelers use that package. Heyward is a very good inside pass-rusher, and Keisel has played better than the Steelers could have hoped as the 13th-year veteran is tied for third on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures. I think Tuitt is going to be a really good player, but I don't think he makes a significant impact until next season unless he starts siphoning snaps from Cam Thomas.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It's hard to get a read on how much progress Josh Harris has made since the season started, since there is no hitting and the speed in practice isn't the same as it is in games. The undrafted free agent has a nice blend of size, speed and quickness, and Harris emerged from a group of young, unheralded backs that the Steelers had in training camp. One thing I noticed during camp is that coach Mike Tomlin stayed on top of Harris, which showed that he liked the potential of the Wake Forest product. Harris has obviously impressed the Steelers with what he has done as a member of the practice squad, as they moved just as quickly in promoting him as they did in waiving the disgruntled Blount last Tuesday.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers have largely done away with number designations as far as their wide receivers. Antonio Brown is obviously their No. 1 wideout, but after that the order shakes out based on packages and situations. That said, I think Martavis Bryant has clearly emerged as their second-best wide receiver and is more of a weapon in the passing game than Wheaton. Consider that Bryant has six touchdown catches despite not dressing in the Steelers' first six games, compared to one for Wheaton. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant has an excellent blend of size and speed, and this kid is more than willing to work to get better. I think the Steelers have finally found the tall wide receiver that has too often been a missing component in their offense. As high as I am on Bryant, I am not giving up on Wheaton in any way. He has the physical ability and work ethic to be a very good wide receiver at this level. And given how much teams are throwing the ball now, you need at least three good wide receivers to thrive in the passing game, so there is room for both Bryant and Wheaton..

A big mailbag this week. If you have a Pittsburgh Steelers question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail. And away we go.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Ryan Shazier is listed as probable on the Steelers' final injury report of the week and I expect him to play. How much the rookie linebacker plays remains to be seen. I would think Shazier will share snaps with Sean Spence at left inside linebacker. The Steelers need to be smart with their first-round pick, and I would think they would put Shazier on a pretty strict snap count since he still has to work his way back into optimum football shape after missing the last four games because of a sprained knee.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I wondered about that myself while covering the game last Monday night. Sean Spence looked like he got caught out of position a number of times though he did recover a fumble during the pivotal second-quarter stretch when the Steelers scored 24 unanswered points. Vince Williams seems to make plays when he is in the game and he started 11 games last season as a rookie. My guess is Williams isn't good enough in pass coverage, at least in the eyes of the coaches, to play more snaps.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Well, they aren't exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears or even the Seattle Seahawks from last season. The Colts are beatable but the Steelers are going to have to play their best game of the season to end Indianapolis' five-game winning streak. First and foremost, the defense is going to have to produce takeaways, just as it did in the 30-23 win over the Houston Texans. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck makes questionable throws at times and if the Steelers are in a position to pick him off they have to capitalize. The offense also has to put it together for an entire game. There is no reason why a unit that has the Steelers' talent shouldn't consistently score in the high 20s and low 30s. It is probably going to have to put up a lot of points for the Steelers to beat the Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It's temporary and a nod to how Brice McCain has played in practice as well as in games and a message to Cortez Allen that he has to be more consistent. The Steelers haven't given up on Allen by any means, and remember Ike Taylor endured a benching in 2006 and it ultimately made him a better player. Plus, it's not like Allen is tethered to the bench. He played a lot of snaps against the Texans because the Steelers frequently used their nickel package. The same could happen Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think it's had a big impact. Jarvis Jones is a huge upgrade over Arthur Moats and James Harrison at right outside linebacker. And from a big-picture standpoint it is critical that Jones fulfills the potential that led the Steelers to take him with their first-round pick in 2013. The only way he is going to do that is by getting on the field, something that could happen Nov. 17 against the Tennessee Titans. That is when Jones is eligible to play in a game and he can come off the injured reserve/designated to return list at the beginning of November. Ike Taylor too has been missed given the struggles that Cortez Allen has endured. The Steelers -- and Allen -- might be better off right now to let him watch and regroup a little. They don't have the luxury of doing that because Taylor is out.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: If the Steelers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season I think the heat gets turned up on general manager Kevin Colbert as well as coach Mike Tomlin. I don't think either loses his job but there is no question that the Steelers have to start drafting better. Like most teams, they've had their share of hits and misses but I'm not sure I'd use the word "poor" to describe his drafts. His overall record is still pretty good and Colbert would be the first to admit he has to do a better job given the Steelers' philosophy of building through the draft. As for Art Rooney II, he wanted an offensive coordinator with a different approach and one who would minimize the punishment absorbed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We can debate all day whether the Steelers made the right call in "retiring" Bruce Arians, but it's Rooney II's team and he made the decision that he thought was best for the organization.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: That all depends on Martavis Bryant and whether he builds off a promising debut. I think his role will gradually expand and certainly there is an opening for him with Justin Brown seemingly falling out of favor with the coaches and Markus Wheaton trying to work his way out of a funk. Bryant's size and speed needs to be used in the passing game, and what I really liked about the rookie is that it wasn't too big for him last Monday night against the Houston Texans. He got open twice on go patterns and made a really nice catch for the Steelers' first touchdown. His play against the Texans bodes well for Bryant moving forward as long as he can minimize his growing pains.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: No chance. Michael Sam has to play in a 4-3 defense because he can't cover anybody and outside linebackers have to be able to play the pass in Dick LeBeau's defense. Plus, I don't think Sam plays specials teams. He is basically a situational pass rusher who is not a good fit in a 3-4 defemse. 
PITTSBURGH -- Whenever I am asked after an NFL draft how the Pittsburgh Steelers fared my stock answer is this: Ask me in three years.

I think it takes at least that long to fairly evaluate a draft -- and the players in it -- which is why it is way too premature to skewer the Steelers for using a third-round pick in May on running back Dri Archer.

But the pick looks as puzzling seven weeks into the NFL season as it did when the Steelers made a luxury selection even though they had more pressing needs, especially on a defense that is in transition.

Archer has rushed for 37 yards on seven carries and caught just four passes for 9 yards in five games. Archer, who missed two games because of a sprained ankle, is on pace for 129 rushing and receiving yards combined this season.

That is 33 less than what Chris Rainey, another speedy but small back, managed in 2012, the only season the former fifth-round pick played for the Steelers.

The Steelers never figured out how to maximize Rainey's speed and versatility before dumping him after one season because of off-the-field issues.

They are running into the same issues with Archer in part because getting touches for the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder has been as problematic as it looked when the Steelers drafted him with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount already atop the depth chart at running back.

Bell has been an absolute stud in his second season and he is so valuable that the Steelers are having a hard enough time finding playing time for Blount much less Archer.

The biggest indictment of the Archer pick to date is he has not provided the jolt that the Steelers had hoped for on special teams.

Archer routinely gets tackled short of the 20-yard line and that is when teams aren't kicking the ball out of the end zone.

Archer may be one of the fastest players in the NFL but he is last among those with at least nine kickoff returns (17.9 yards per return). General manager Kevin Colbert said after the Steelers picked Archer that they took him so high because they viewed the Kent State product as a starter because of his kick-return ability.

So far that hasn't translated into Archer making an impact in the kicking game.

It is way too early to condemn the pick, and Archer could develop into the dynamic kickoff returner and player who can exploit mismatches that the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him.

But considering the dearth of promising young cornerbacks on the roster it is right to question whether the Steelers wouldn't have been better off addressing that position -- or any number of other ones on defense -- before taking a player like Archer.

Ron Rivera has fond memories of Steelers

September, 18, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Ron Rivera was a finalist for the Pittsburgh Steelers head coaching job that Mike Tomlin got in 2007.

“It’s one of those things where I always wonder what would have happened,” Rivera said, “but it’s the nature of this game.”

Rivera is anything but bitter that the Steelers picked Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher over him and Russ Grimm. Far from it, Rivera credits his experience interviewing with the Steelers for helping him land his current job.

Rivera has been the Carolina Panthers' coach since 2011 and he is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year after guiding the team to the NFC South title last season.

Rivera, who will lead the 2-0 Panthers against the 1-1 Steelers Sunday night, said he has only fond memories of his experience with the Steelers when they were in the process of hiring just their third head coach since 1969.

“The Rooney family was tremendous and [general manager] Kevin Colbert was unbelievable," Rivera said. "I think afterwards I was able to sit down and talk with him and get a feel and understanding of where I needed to be stronger as a candidate.

“It’s interesting because with the Rooney Rule having been in place too at the time, I think it helped me, but at the same time I was treated as if I had every opportunity to win that job. They have so much history and tradition in the league. Their winning tradition in the least 35 years has been tremendous.”

The Steelers are coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons and are off to a shaky start this season. The defense has yet to force a turnover and it is allowing 170 rushing yards per game.

Rivera has a defensive background -- he played linebacker on the iconic 1985 Bears team and was Chicago’s defensive coordinator when he interviewed for the Steelers’ head coaching job -- and he said the Steelers will be fine as the season progresses.

“They have a lot of young players that are still learning and growing in their system,” Rivera said of the Steelers’ defense. “If these guys grow, get adapted and become a part of their team, they are going to make some noise. You look at who they are and you look at their front and how physical they play, there are some really good football players on their team.”
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers punter Brad Wing is hoping history -- or at least a variation of it -- does not repeat itself over the next couple of days.

His father, David, tried out for the Detroit Lions as a punter in 1990 but did not survive the final cut. Kevin Colbert was the Lions' pro scouting director at the time.

Now, as the Steelers' general manager, Colbert will have an even bigger say as to whether a Wing, 23, punts for his employer.

"Hopefully it's not double trouble," Brad Wing said with a smile late Thursday night.

Wing's status is intriguing because he is a near lock to make the 53-man roster, which has to be finalized by 4 p.m. ET today. It is what might happen after late Saturday afternoon that will have Wing all but jumping any time his cell phone rings.

Drew Butler made the 53-man roster last year after presumably winning the punting competition he had waged with veteran Brian Moorman. A couple of days later, the Steelers claimed Zoltan Mesko off waivers and cut Butler.

That is not the only reason why Wing will be on edge for the next couple of days.

The former LSU standout did not seize the punting job even though he had no competition in training camp and the preseason with veteran Adam Podlesh out because of a family matter.

Wing displayed excellent hang time and six of his 29 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. But inconsistency also plagued the Aussie, and a 25-yard punt in the Steelers' final preseason game cannot be ignored even though Wing otherwise made a strong closing argument.

"I had a few I wish I could have back," Wing said after the Steelers' 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. "It seems like I'm saying that every week. I'm just going to continue to work to eliminate the bad ones. Hopefully I've shown enough and hopefully they have enough trust and confidence in me that I can go into the regular season with them."

Coach Mike Tomlin, who showed little patience with Mesko and his one bad punt a game last season, has given Wing several votes of confidence.

Will it be enough for him to stick on the 53-man roster after the Steelers have had a chance to see which other punters surface on the waiver wire today?

"All I want to do is just be here and play football," said Wing, who didn't make the Philadelphia Eagles last season. "I'm still very young and I think they know that. I don't think I've reached my full potential."
This is the 10th in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is outside linebacker.

Players on the roster: Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter, Howard Jones, and Vic So'oto.

Projected starters: Worilds and Jones. Worilds finally enters a season as a starter and the fifth-year veteran will try to build on his strong second half in 2013. Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2013, needs to make a big jump after registering just one sack as a rookie.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Four. Worilds, Jones and Moats are a lock, and the Steelers could only keep three players here if they think Terence Garvin or Jordan Zumwalt can fill in at outside linebacker assuming one or both make the team. I get the feeling Carter will be one of the odd men out here even though he has worked with the first-team defense when Jones has been out because of a groin injury.

Rookie watch: Howard Jones is raw, and he would ideally spend a year on the practice squad to get bigger and learn the nuances of playing outside linebacker. The Steelers, however, may not want to expose the Shepherd University product to waivers, and Jones may be able to help them on special teams as a rookie. He has already recovered a pair of fumbles in two preseason games, and if "HoJo" keeps making plays on special teams it's going to be hard for the Steelers to cut him.

What we learned in camp: Worilds is clearly the Steelers' best pusher, and the fifth-year veteran could register double digits in sacks if he stays healthy and gets help from Jones on the right side of the defense. Jarvis Jones looks like a different player this year, though a groin injury hampered the second-year man at St. Vincent College. Moats is fine as the No. 3 linebacker while Carter doesn't look like he has a future with the Steelers. Look for them to try and trade Carter for a draft pick and release the fourth-year veteran if they are not able to move him. So'oto remains in the picture after a strong game against the Bills, and it could come down to him and Howard Jones for the final roster spot at outside linebacker.

He said it: "I think the success of this team will be determined by the pace at which the young group develops and not only this year's draft class but last year's. We expect more from Jarvis Jones. We expect more from Le'Veon Bell. We expect more from Markus Wheaton. If they progress like we expect in addition to this year's class then we might have something." – Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s new contract won’t change the Steelers’ approach to Ben Roethlisberger and that includes their intention to reward their franchise quarterback when the time is right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nobody has Mike Wallace’s speed but as far as having that kind of ability, yes, I do think [Bryant] has that kind of ability,” Taylor said. “When you’ve got a guy who’s 6-4, who can pretty much run with anybody and can jump and catch, that’s a good sign.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The six-year, $115 million contract that quarterback Andy Dalton landed from the Bengals won’t alter the Pittsburgh Steelers' plans regarding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told ESPN.com.

Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract, which is when the Steelers have traditionally signed their starting quarterback to a new deal. But the franchise will wait until after the season to sign Roethlisberger, whose base salary is $12.1 million this year, to another long-term contract.

That hasn’t changed because of the contact that Dalton signed with the Bengals, Colbert said.

“Those deals don’t affect us at all,” Colbert said Monday morning. "Art [Rooney II] made the statement and we followed up that Ben’s situation will be dealt with fairly after the season because we want to take care of other business that we have to tend to this year.”

The Steelers are less than $6 million under the salary cap, and Colbert has said the organization is interested in signing cornerback Cortez Allen, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and right tackle Marcus Gilbert to long-term contracts.

All are going into the final year of their respective deals.

The Steelers signed kicker Shaun Suisham to a four-year contract extension last Friday. Gilbert said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has had talks with the Steelers regarding a new contract for the fourth-year veteran.

The Steelers have until Sept. 7 to sign their own players to new deals since the team doesn't negotiate contracts during the regular season.

“Obviously you think about getting [a new contract] done; the only thing I can control is playing football,” Gilbert said. “If I do what I’m supposed to do during games it’s going to work out for itself. I keep in touch with my agent but he handles that part and my job is to play football.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Shaun Suisham, the most accurate kicker in franchise history, to a four-year contract extension.

The new deal puts Suisham under the Steelers' control through through 2018. He becomes the first player that the Steelers have signed to a new, long-term contract since general manager Kevin Colbert said the team is “open for business.”

Colbert said earlier this week that the Steelers are hoping to sign starters who are in the final year of their contract to multi-year deals before the start of the regular season. That list now is down to outside linebacker Jason Worilds, cornerback Cortez Allen and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Suisham signed his second long-term contract with the Steelers after making 30 of 32 field goal attempts last season, a 93.8-percent conversion rate, which is a franchise single-season record.

Suisham has made 95 of 109 field-goal attempts since signing with the Steelers in November 2010. The 10th-year veteran has a conversion rate of 87.2 percent with the Steelers, the highest in franchise history.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stuck with the Twitter handle SacManJones_29 despite notching just one quarterback takedown during a trying rookie season.

That he still embraces the alias is as close as Jones will come to predicting a breakout season for himself, something the Steelers badly need from their 2013 first-round draft pick.

“I’m going to do it my way,” Jones said. “Just keep quiet and work hard and produce on the field. I’ve got to live up to my name.”

It is critical that Jones do that since no player’s development on a defense that has gotten profoundly younger is more critical than his.

The Steelers’ defense has to become more opportunistic after forcing just 20 turnovers last season. Jones and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds providing a consistent pass rush would go a long way toward the Steelers taking the ball away more.

It would also help a secondary that has questions at cornerback.

Jones is poised to make a big jump after improving his strength the offseason and significantly raising his comfort level with the defense.

In addition, new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who played right outside linebacker in seven seasons with the Steelers and recorded 60 sacks, is mentoring Jones. And Jones spent the offseason working on his pass-rushing technique with Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston.

The two former Georgia teammates are close friends and trained together in Atlanta. Houston has 21 combined sacks in the last seasons -- he had 11 in 11 games in 2013 -- and Jones wants to replicate the success Houston has had since becoming a full-time starter in his second NFL season.

“I’ve been watching a lot of film of him and just watching his hand placement, his steps,” Jones said. “I feel really good about myself and where I’m at right now.”

Jones admittedly didn’t feel good about himself last season while struggling as learned a complex defense on the job and running into left tackles who were bigger and stronger than the ones he had regularly beaten in college.

The 6-2, 245-pounder recorded just one sack after making 28 of them in the two seasons he played for Georgia, and Jones admittedly got down on himself.

“It hurt because I wasn’t productive and I’m not used to being in that position,” Jones said. “Ever since I started playing football I’ve always been successful. It was humbling and it just makes you work harder.”

The Steelers need that work to produce signifcant returns this season.

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers will only go far as young players such as Jones take them, and SacMan_29 embraces that challenge.

“We understand that we’re a young group so we’ve really got to take the initiative of being physical, taking advantage of us being together,” Jones said of a defense that has eight projected starters who are 27 years old or younger. “We’re a lot younger than they’re used to seeing. We’ve got to gain our respect from everybody, even our teammates.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers might be "open for business," as general manager Kevin Colbert put it Monday, but there are several constraints when it comes to signing some of their own players to new long-term deals.

The Steelers have a little less than six weeks to get signings done because they don't negotiate contracts once the season starts. Colbert said they have less than $6 million under the salary cap, but the reality is the Steelers don't even have that much money to spend on new deals.

They will have to retain a healthy surplus to be used on signings during the season with the inevitability that some of their players will end up on the injured reserve list at some point.

One way in which the Steelers could shore up a critical position long term and also create immediate cap room is by signing outside linebacker Jason Worilds to a long-term contract.

Worilds' cap hit this season is $9.754 million since he signed the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on the fifth-year veteran to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers could significantly lower Worilds' 2014 cap hit by signing him to a multiyear contract, which would allow them to spread the signing bonus over the length of the deal.

Colbert said Worilds is among the Steelers players who are candidates to receive a new contract, and Worilds has said that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

How much the Steelers are willing to give the player who finally came into his own in the second half of 2013 remains to be seen. Colbert said the Steelers won't be leery of making a significant investment in Worilds even though the 2010 second-round draft pick has yet to produce at a high level for an entire season.

"That's what our job is … to try to predict future success," Colbert said. "It's no different [when] you draft a player out of college and he gets a substantial amount of money in the first round and he's never played a down. A lot of what we do is taking calculated risks."

The risk with Worilds is overpaying a player who has 18 sacks in four NFL seasons -- and getting burned like the Steelers did by the six-year, $61.5 million contract they gave LaMarr Woodley, whom Worilds has replaced at left outside linebacker, in 2011.

The question the Steelers have to answer is whether they have to see more from their top pass-rusher before signing Worilds to a lucrative long-term deal.
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have not ruled out bringing back defensive end Brett Keisel or outside linebacker James Harrison.

General manager Kevin Colbert declined to talk about specific players Monday morning when asked if Keisel is on the Steelers’ radar. But Colbert said, “We haven’t eliminated anybody from consideration because we don’t know what’s going to happen before the season. Even into the season there’s been times when we’ve brought back veteran players due to injury. If we have eliminated a player we always tell [him] don’t keep us in your thought process, if you have an opportunity don’t wait for us, something along those lines.”

Keisel and Harrison, who played for the Bengals in 2013 after nine seasons with the Steelers, would like to return to the team. And I have Keisel on my latest projected 53-man roster.

It makes all the sense in the world for the Steelers to bring Keisel back.

He could play in a rotation at left defensive end – I’m not sold on Cam Thomas there – and serve as a perfect bridge between second-round pick Stephon Tuitt’s rookie and second seasons. There are a lot of people with football expertise who think Keisel can still play, even though he turns 36 in September, and he would be a great mentor for the younger defensive ends like Tuitt and Brian Arnfelt.

The Steelers don’t have to be in a hurry to bring back Keisel, who is keeping himself in shape and doesn't need training camp at this point of his career. That will give them time to take an extended look at what they have at defensive end and help them decide whether to bring back Keisel.

I like Keisel’s chances of returning to the Steelers a lot better than I do Harrison coming back for a second stint in Pittsburgh.

The five-time Pro Bowler would have to be content with a really limited role with the Steelers set with their top three at outside linebacker in Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats.

For fans who have asked about Harrison returning so he can help the younger players at outside linebacker, the Steelers added that mentor last February when they hired Joey Porter as a defensive assistant.

One injury, of course, could change everything in regard to the Steelers and Harrison. But if the Steelers stay relatively healthy at outside linebacker, I don’t see him returning to Pittsburgh.
LATROBE, Pa. -- I’m not sure why Ben Roethlisberger's contract situation was ever an issue.

He wants to play his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Steelers went through too many quarterbacks after Terry Bradshaw to play a high-stakes game of chicken with Roethlisberger over money.

The two sides will get a deal done when the time is right. Roethlisberger still has two years left on the eight-year, $102 million deal he signed in 2008, and next year is much better for the Steelers to get a new deal done with Big Ben. The Steelers will have the kind of salary-cap space after this season to lock up Roethlisberger without compromising the construction of a competitive roster because of the investment they make in their franchise quarterback.

In terms of Roethlisberger and his third contract with the Steelers, it has always been a matter of when and not if, and Kevin Colbert doesn’t anticipate protracted contract talks once the two sides get serious about a new deal.

“Most negotiations aren’t that complicated or time consuming if you have two parties that want to do a deal,” the Steelers general manager said Monday.

That is the case with Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The only question is how much the organization will pay a quarterback who will be 33 years old when he plays under his next -- and presumably final -- contract.

Roethlisberger is still playing at a high level, and his command of the no-huddle offense, from which the coaches lifted the reins in the second half of last season, might be the biggest reason the Steelers won six of their final eight games in 2013.

The 11th-year veteran reported to training camp in excellent shape, and Roethlisberger is as engaged as ever when he is on the field, pointing out to the Steelers' young and new wide receivers the correct way to run a route or simply offering encouragement.

The Steelers, meanwhile, remain committed to building around Roethlisberger.

And if there is any doubt about how much they value him, consider this: When asked if he buys into the thinking that if you have a franchise quarterback in the NFL you have a chance, Colbert did not hesitate to answer.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
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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.