Pittsburgh Steelers: LeGarrette Blount

Here is the second half of the Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question, please tweet @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: To be determined. I think the Steelers will sign an outside linebacker in free agency who can start in Jason Worilds ' spot. They could also re-sign Arthur Moats and have him compete for the starting job at left outside linebacker with a player on whom I assume the Steelers will use a high draft pick. But I think the Steelers - and their fans - will feel a lot better if they sign an outside free agent to come in and start.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Landon Collins is the only safety worthy of a first-round pick. If the Alabama prospect is gone before the 22nd overall pick, it doesn't make sense to address that position until later in the draft. If all things are equal, I agree that the Steelers should take an outside linebacker ahead of a cornerback. But if the Steelers sign an outside linebacker in free agency, I think cornerback becomes the Steelers' top priority in the draft. And if there is a corner they really like at No. 22 overall, it is time to finally use a first-round pick on one.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I can't see Bush signing with a team that has an every-down back who is as dynamic as Le'Veon Bell. There just won't be enough opportunities for Bush after Bell returns from an expected two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. And the Steelers will be wary of bringing in a proven back for what will be a bit role after what happened with LeGarrette Blount last season. Williams might be more agreeable than Bush to playing limited snaps. He isn't getting younger - Williams turns 32 in April - and the ninth-year veteran might accept a role as strictly a backup if he thinks he has a chance to win a ring. Williams also has a tie to the Steelers as he and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner were at Memphis together when the latter was the offensive coordinator, there so there is that.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: No, no, no and no. The Steelers don't need pass rushers that bad to take a chance on a player with as much baggage as Hardy. There were questions about him off the field even before he was charged with domestic assault. The allegations against Hardy painted a very disturbing picture. I can't see the Steelers -- or a lot of other teams -- wanting anything to do with him.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think the Steelers will re-sign Ike Taylor, who is the only free agent among the four. I think there is a very good chance that Troy Polamalu is released, as sacrilegious as that sounds. Polamalu is apparently intent on playing in 2015 but he will have to accept a reduction of his $6 million base salary in 2015 for there to be a chance of him returning to the Steelers -- with an emphasis on chance. James Harrison is an interesting case because if the Steelers don't sign an outside linebacker in free agency and Jason Worilds signs elsewhere, as expected, they will be both thin and inexperienced at the position. But I could see Harrison joining Dick LeBeau in Tennessee, especially if the Steelers wait on trying to re-sign Harrison. Brett Keisel, to me, is the most likely of the four to play for the Steelers next season. The 13th-year veteran showed last season that he can still play and he accepted a situational role in 2014. Bring Keisel back to provide depth and leadership for one more season and release Cam Thomas, who also has one year left on his contract.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Quinten Rollins comes to mind in the second round after he did not test very well at the NFL scouting combine. Rollins is a project after playing just one season at Miami (Ohio), but he is intriguing because of his production in2014 - he intercepted seven passes - and upside. Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is another cornerback who could drop into the late part of the second round after tearing his ACL in December. Like Rollins, the team that drafts Ekpre-Olomu may have to wait a little longer for a return on that pick, but he, too, is oozing with potential. One cornerback to keep an eye on in the third round is Oregon State's Steven Nelson. The 5-10, 197-pound Nelson doesn't have great size, but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the combine and broke up 24 passes in his final two seasons at Oregon State.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: My guess is that there have been talks between the two sides. Whether serious negotiations have taken place yet, I'm not sure. The Steelers do want Moats back and he would be ideal as a No. 3 outside linebacker who can start and also play special teams. Moats really seems to like playing for the Steelers, so the question the fifth-year veteran has to answer is whether he wants to seek more money and an opportunity to start elsewhere. I do think Moats and the Steelers are a good fit and I expect him to re-sign with the team.
PITTSBURGH -- General manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week that the Pittsburgh Steelers have not ruled out any position, aside from specialists, as far as consideration for their first-round draft pick.

And yes that includes quarterback.

But Colbert added a significant caveat.

"As I sit here today could we eliminate any position? No," Colbert said on Tuesday. "Between now and draft day a lot’s going to happen. We may sign a corner in free agency. We may sign a certain position to an extension."

The Steelers will get a long-term contract done with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at some point. They are also likely to sign a free agent to come in start, something they did with safety Mike Mitchell last year.

Whether they sign a cornerback or an outside linebacker -- the market could be relatively flush with pass-rushers -- remains to be seen.

One of the bigger questions the Steelers have to answer is how much of a priority they make adding a running back in the offseason.

Le'Veon Bell is expected to miss the first two games of the 2015 season because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. And Dri Archer and Josh Harris -- the only other running backs on the roster -- have 19 career carries between them.

The Steelers have to be wary about adding a back in free agency after getting burned by LeGarrette Blount last season. But can they go the first two games of the 2015 with Archer, Harris and a rookie running back they add in the draft?

Or might they make running back more of a priority in the draft?

Having Bell and Blount last year before the draft did not stop the Steelers from showing significant interest in LSU running back Jeremy Hill.

The Cincinnati Bengals picked Hill in the second round -- after making Giovani Bernard the first running back drafted the previous year -- and he emerged as one of the top rookies last season, rushing for 1,124 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

The general de-valuation of the position pushes running backs down in the draft as Bell and Hill, among others, have shown in recent years.

With the Steelers bracing for the worst when it comes to Bell’s NFL discipline for his arrest last August, a running back may fall to a position in the draft that they cannot afford to pass on.

And it could be sooner rather than later.
The emergence of so many rookies wide receivers in 2014 -- six had more than 750 receiving yards -- should not have come as a surprise in one sense.

Analysts had said leading up to the draft that it was unusually flush with talented wideouts, and the depth at the position allowed the Steelers to wait until the fourth round to take Clemson’s Martavis Bryant.

Bryant caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns despite only dressing for the last 10 games. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder has a rare blend of size and speed and is on his way to becoming one of the top deep threats in the NFL.

Any other year, ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson said of Bryant, and “I guarantee you he’s a second-round pick. He happened to fall and (the Steelers) jumped on him. I think that will be even more of a case this year with running backs.”

That is excellent news for the Steelers, who are in the market for running back depth -- and should have learned from the LeGarrette Blount debacle not to bring in a veteran who has expectations of playing significant snaps.

Le'Veon Bell is clearly an every-down back as he showed during a breakout season that merits MVP consideration, and only turns 23 next month.

But Bell’s absence in the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens due to a hyperextended knee also magnified the need for the team to upgrade behind him.

This may be the perfect year to do it even with the Steelers expected to focus on defense in the draft.

A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round of the draft since 2012 and ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter Ben Goessling recently wrote about how devalued the position has become in the NFL.

What that means for the Steelers is that quality running backs will get pushed down the draft through no fault of their own and should be available in the middle of the draft, if not later.

Consider that St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason, who led all rookies with 765 yards rushing, was a third-round pick. The second-best rookie rusher, New York Giants running back Andre Williams (721 yards), was selected in the fourth round.

The Steelers would be crazy to consider drafting a running back before the fourth round. But in a draft class that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. agrees is deep at running back they should be able to find one in those middle rounds who can help them.
This is the 11th in a series that looks at 17 plays that shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers' season -- one from every game.

For this series we will go in chronological order.

No. 1: Running back Le'Veon Bell's 38-yard touchdown run in a 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns.

No, 2: Wide receiver Justin Brown's lost fumble after a 6-yard reception in a 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 3: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones' sack of quarterback Cam Newton for an 8-yard loss in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

No. 4: Wide receiver Antonio Brown's drop of a sure touchdown pass in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. 5: Cornerback Brice McCain's 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

No. 6: Cornerback Cortez Allen getting beat for a 51-yard touchdown catch by Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.

No. 7: Le'Veon Bell's 43-yard reception in a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.

No. 8: Cornerback William Gay's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

No. 9: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton's 47-yard touchdown catch in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 10: Ben Roethlisberger's rare and untimely interception in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets.

No. 11: Le'Veon Bell stretches for a critical touchdown against the Tennessee Titans on the way to a career game.

The setting: The Steelers, coming off an unseemly loss to the New York Jets, looked like they were in trouble against another bad team when the upstart Tennessee Titans took a 24-13 lead late in the third quarter. Bell took over the game with the Steelers at a crossroads, ripping off runs of 27 and 11 yards to help move the offense to the Titans' 5-yard line.

The play: On first down, Bell took a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and bounced left where tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Ramon Foster had crashed in the Titans' defensive line. Bell got to the 2-yard line, and with safety George Wilson hanging onto his legs and linebacker Avery Williamson riding his back he stretched just enough to place the ball on the goal line. The 5-yard touchdown run, which came on the first play of the fourth quarter, held up after an official review.

What it meant for the bigger picture: Bell rushed for a career-high 204 yards and the Steelers rallied for a 27-24 win behind the second-year man and a punishing offensive line. Bell and backup LeGarrette Blount celebrated together after the former's touchdown run was upheld and Bell mimicked taking a selfie of the two on the Steelers' sidelines. Blount's mood, however, soured shortly after that. Blount became so frustrated by not getting a carry against the Titans that he left the sidelines before the end of the game. It left the Steelers little choice but to cut ties with Blount, which they did the following day when they waived the fifth-year veteran. Blount re-signed with the New England Patriots and will play in the Super Bowl next Sunday. The Steelers lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs in large part because they did not have Bell, who did not play against the Baltimore Ravens due to a hyperextended knee.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II weighed in on two subjects that are outside of Pittsburgh but have roiled Steelers' fans nonetheless: reports, including one from ESPN, that the New England Patriots may have illegally gained an advantage over an opponent and running back LeGarrette Blount's reward for abandoning the Steelers.

The Patriots' 45-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game -- and another crack for quarterback Tom Brady at an elusive fourth Super Bowl title -- has been clouded by lingering suspicion hanging over an organization that has already been busted for cheating.

The Patriots, who were punished for illegally videotaping opponents by the NFL in 2007, face less serious accusations as far as manipulating the air pressure in footballs used in their blowout win over the Colts.

But the Patriots have never been able to completely wash away the stench from Spygate, and the mounting evidence that they may have cheated again could lead to some significant repercussions and at least tarnish coach Bill Belichick's legacy.

Here is what Rooney, the Steelers' president, said when I asked him if the NFL needs to come down hard on the Patriots, if it is determined they cheated, because of past behavior: "Let's put it this way: I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I haven't talked to anybody up there myself so I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."

Blount, who signed a two-year contract with the Steelers almost a year ago, violated one of the basic codes among teammates when he left the sidelines before a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans last November.

Blount, unhappy about his diminishing role in the offense, went to the Steelers' locker room before they had beaten Tennessee after he did not receive a carry against the Titans.

Never mind that Le'Veon Bell rushed for a career-high 204 yards against the Titans and that Bell was Blount's best friend on the team.

The Steelers wasted little time in waiving the discontented Blount and the Patriots re-signed the fifth-year veteran in late November.

Blount emerged as the Patriots' best back late in the season -- just as he did in 2013 -- and is one victory away from winning a Super Bowl title.

Despite the success of Blount -- and the Steelers' need for a quality backup after Bell hyperextended his right knee in the regular-season finale -- Rooney has no regrets with how Pittsburgh handled the Blount situation.

"Obviously we don't want to have those kind things happen in the middle of the season but it is what it is and I think we made the decision [to release Blount] for the right reasons," Rooney said. "Not going to worry about it too much. We just have to make sure that we make a better decision this year and fill that position with someone we're comfortable with and who will be a good fit."
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin infamously said before he had coached a game in Pittsburgh that the Steelers would run Willie Parker “until the wheels fall off.”

Both happened in 2007 when Parker went down in the penultimate game of the regular reason.

Parker was leading the NFL with 1,316 rushing yards when he broke his lower right leg against the St. Louis Rams. “Fast Willie” was never the same after returning from the injury, as he played just two more seasons with the Steelers before exiting the NFL in 2010, a couple of months before his 30th birthday.

Do the Steelers run a similar risk with Le’Veon Bell, who is on pace for around 300 carries and 90 receptions in his second NFL season? Probably not, at least in the short term, as the Steelers will lean heavily on Bell as they try to emerge from a pack of 7-5 teams in the AFC.

The offense has to continue to run through Bell, especially with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling with his accuracy and with three of the Steelers’ final four games coming in cold-weather cities, including two in Pittsburgh. As Tomlin pointed out, Bell is a sturdy back who is built for a heavy workload.

Parker, meanwhile, was a smaller back, and the injury that compromised his blinding speed was more the result of an unfortunate hit than overuse. Losing a step because of the serious leg injury was the biggest reason why Parker flamed out after three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

The concern that the Steelers should have with Bell is not that he will suffer an injury over the next month, but how the pounding he takes adversely affects his productivity over the course of his career.

Those hits, after all, add up and start to chip away at a running back's speed.

The Steelers have to strike a balance of featuring Bell in their offense without eventually wearing him down to maximize the seasons at which he plays at a high level.

They thought they had done that when they signed LeGarrette Blount in March. But he pouted his way out of Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have no choice right now but to rely almost exclusively on Bell, who is too good of a blocker and receiver to come off the field on passing downs.

They can address their need for a back who can lighten Bell’s load in the offseason. That player will be found in free agency or the draft, if he is not already in the Steelers’ locker room.

Tomlin is fond of saying he “doesn’t live in his fears," and for now, that means riding Bell as far as the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder and the offense take the Steelers.
PITTSBURGH -- Rookie running back Josh Harris will play in his first NFL game Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the New Orleans Saints.

And one concern Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley doesn’t have when it comes to Harris is whether the undrafted free agent will get overwhelmed or intimidated in whatever role he plays against the Saints.

"Since he’s been here he’s been the predominant ball carrier against the (first-team) defense that’s trying to whack heck out of him every single play," Haley said of Harris. "I think what impressed everybody as time went on is that even though he was getting whacked and it was ticking him off a little bit, he was coming back and bringing it all the very next play every single play, and that’s a big part of these young guys developing."

Haley did not tip his hand as to how the rotation at running back will shake out after Le'Veon Bell, who is second in the NFL with 951 rushing yards.

He did express confidence in both Harris, who was promoted from the practice squad after the Steelers waived LeGarrette Blount, and fellow rookie Dri Archer.

Archer, a third-round draft pick, has rushed for 41 yards on just eight carries, but the Steelers are convinced the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder can provide quality depth at running back even though he is lacking in size.

"We were impressed as soon as he got on campus that he was a very good runner with very good vision," Haley said. "Obviously he’s not built like a workhorse, so I don’t think you want to dive him between the tackles 20 times a game, but he can (run)."

So can fullback Will Johnson, who also could see playing time at running back if the Steelers need him there.

"One of his best traits is his versatility," Haley said of Johnson, who also plays tight end. "He’s got vision and the ability to run the football, especially between the tackles."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin pointed out a fact about what has to be the youngest backfield in the NFL.

Le'Veon Bell, who is second in the NFL with 951 rushing yards, is actually younger than his two understudies.

Bell is 22 while rookies Dri Archer and Josh Harris are each 23 years old.

“We’ve got a young position group but you look around football and young backs impact games in a significant way and a positive way week in and week out,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

That trend is why Tomlin said he is “not reluctant at all” to lean more on Archer, who has eight NFL carries, and Harris, who has yet to play in an NFL game, as the Steelers move forward without LeGarrette Blount.

“Just because Dri has a limited number of carries and Josh has none doesn’t mean they can’t be significant contributors to our efforts not only this week but moving forward. And I know both guys work with that in mind and I don’t think either guy is lacking confidence,” Tomlin said. “I don’t think the group that works with them is lacking confidence in either guy.”

Bell certainly isn’t, even though the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer has yet to make a significant impact despite possessing world-class speed. Archer has rushed for 41 yards on eight carries and caught five passes for 4 yards.

“A lot of smaller guys just want to depend on their speed all of the time and run outside; he’s a guy that likes running in between the tackles,” Bell said of Archer. “I won’t say he’s a guy who will get 30 carries a game -- his frame won’t hold that -- but he’s definitely a running back. He’s a slasher, a one-cut go guy and uses his speed when he needs to.”

Bell also offered a scouting report on Harris, whom the Steelers promoted from the practice squad last Tuesday after waiving Blount.

“Josh is going to surprise a lot of people because he’s a thicker-type of guy and a lot of people don’t really understand how fast he is and he’s a guy that’s still learning,” Bell said. “He’s going to be ready when his time [comes].”
PITTSBURGH -- One of the biggest questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers as they make a push for an AFC North title: What role will rookie Dri Archer carve out in the backfield?

To say the third-round draft pick has been a bit player through his first nine NFL games would be an understatement.

 Archer has just 45 rushing and receiving yards combined, and he lost his job as the Steelers’ primary kickoff man after averaging just 17.9 yards on seven returns.

The release of LeGarrette Blount has seemingly created an opening for Archer. But does he really have much more of an opportunity with Blount gone?

The Steelers were already phasing Blount out of the offense before the temper tantrum last Monday night that led to his release. Getting rid of Blount only clarified that Le’Veon Bell is the Steelers’ starting running back, third-down back and goal-line back.

Mike Tomlin did not opt for subtlety last week when asked his opinion of Archer and what the Kent State product has shown through roughly the first three quarters of the season.

“Not much,” the eighth-year Steelers coach said. “He is a young guy. He has some talent. He has worked hard. We will see where he is.”

The Steelers have not figured out a way to use Archer and his supreme speed. But one thing hasn’t fundamentally changed when it comes to the 5-8, 173-pounder: Archer still has to make the most of limited touches before he earns a bigger role in the offense.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to really use him, which I know has probably been frustrating to him,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “But he can run inside and out, and he has shown us that since Day 1. The thing with him is that you give him a crease, and he can take it all the way.”
Here is the second installment of the Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail.

And away we go ...
@ScottBrown_ESPN I could tell you that but I have my doubts that Ryan Shazier plays against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 30. Shazier sustained a high ankle sprain in the 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 2 and that is a tough injury to come back from, especially for a linebacker who relies on speed and quickness and has to move a lot laterally.

The Steelers plan to ease Shazier back into practice on Monday when the players return from the bye. How much the first-round pick is able to do as the week progresses will determine whether Shazier has a chance of playing against the Saints. My guess is they err on the side of caution and hold the rookie out for another week. I had a chance to talk to linebackers coach Keith Butler last week about Shazier and how much of a setback the knee and ankle injuries that have already cost him six games have set back his development. That post will be up Monday morning. @ScottBrown_ESPN I touched on Harris in the mailbag that ran earlier today and the 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back has good size, speed and quickness. The Steelers are excited to see what the undrafted free agent can do as am I. Harris is a more prototypical running back than Dri Archer, who is averaging just under a carry per game and has struggled in his rookie season.

Given the lack of return the Steelers have gotten so far from Archer, their third-round draft pick in May, I think Harris will be in the mix to get some carries behind Le'Veon Bell. But given how important Bell is to the offense and how he is an every-down back, both Archer and Harris are going to be vying for scraps rather than significant carries behind Bell. @ScottBrown_ESPN I wrote about Jarvis Jones last week and Butler is hopeful that the second-year man returns this season but also acknowledged that there are no guarantees. The biggest obstacle to Jones returning from a dislocated wrist is the importance of using his hands at his position. Jones has to regain enough strength in his wrist that the Steelers will be comfortable the 2013 first-round pick is not "defenseless" when he gets back onto the field as Butler told me last week.

Jones is optimistic he will return this season and I can tell you that he is doing everything to make that happen. Jones has been at Steelers headquarters on a regular basis, working out and attending linebackers meetings as well as practice to stay engaged. The Steelers have 21 days to play him in a game after activating Jones from the injured reserve/designated to return list. That they have yet to take that step shows that Jones is still a ways away from returning to the field. @ScottBrown_ESPN Well, it certainly is a more inexperienced backfield but I don't know if I would necessarily call it a weaker one. Getting rid of LeGarrette Blount was classic addition by subtraction. Take away a 100-yard game against the Carolina Panthers and Blount averaged less than 3 yards per carry and the Steelers were already phasing him out of the offense before he walked out on his teammates last Monday night in Tennessee.

I'm sure the Steelers are keeping their eye on running backs that are out there but they are also well aware of how frequently unheralded backs seemingly come out of nowhere after getting an opportunity. That happened last week with former undrafted free agent Jonas Gray, who rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns for the New England Patriots last week. The Steelers hope they don't have to find out anytime soon if Josh Harris can become another in a growing line of backs like Gray because that would mean Bell went down with a significant injury. But the Steelers obviously like his potential for them to promote Harris right after they got rid of Blount.
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..

PITTSBURGH -- He is an undrafted rookie running back who has played his way onto the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did not play as much at an ACC school in North Carolina as he had hoped because of differences with the coaching staff. He has the kind of speed that has already caught the attention of his teammates.

It is waaaaaaay too early to make any comparisons between Willie Parker, who is third on the Steelers' career rushing list, and Josh Harris, who has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.

But there are undeniable parallels between the two -- Parker came out of nowhere after a nondescript career at the University of North Carolina -- which will make it interesting to see what Harris -- who attended Wake Forest University -- does with the opportunity in front of him.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Josh Harris
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJosh Harris, above against the Panthers in the preseason, is being elevated from the practice squad.
Harris, who had been on the Steelers' practice squad, benefited most from the temper tantrum that drew LeGarrette Blount a one-way ticket out of Pittsburgh. The Steelers moved as quickly in promoting him as they did in getting rid of Blount. It says something about what Harris has shown since signing with the Steelers a couple of days after the start of training camp.

"He's a phenomenal runner," Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said. "I'm excited for him."

The Steelers are excited to see what Harris can give them while providing depth with fellow rookie Dri Archer behind Bell.

Harris has good size, and speed apparently isn't an issue for the 5-foot-11, 230-pound player.

"I wouldn't say I'm as fast Dri," Harris said of Archer, who has world-class speed, "but I'm maybe one or two steps behind him."

Harris reportedly ran a sub-4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Wake Forest University's Pro Day -- and in snow, no less -- and that is when he surfaced on the Steelers' radar.

How much of a chance Harris gets to showcase his speed remains to be seen since the Steelers had committed to Bell as their every-down back even before they dumped Blount.

But given how little Archer has played -- the third-round back is averaging a little less than a carry per game -- the Steelers will certainly give Harris a long look as they redefine the roles in their backfield.

"He is built well. He is quick. He has some speed," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "We are excited to see what he brings."

What might have the Steelers most intrigued about Harris: He is as driven as Parker was to prove people wrong after not fulfilling expectations in college.

Harris rushed for more than 2,000 career yards at Wake Forest but he never had a 1,000-yard season. And that, Harris said, is not the biggest reason why he went undrafted last May.

"I heard from my agent that there were some people at my school who now aren't at the school anymore that talked to scouts, talked to coaches, and told them certain things about me that kind of made them shy away from me," Harris said. "I think that one of things they said (was) I'm good but I don't work as hard as I should."

That -- and the path he has taken to the NFL -- has left Harris plenty motivated and looking ahead, not back.

"I'm just trying to put all of that stuff at Wake Forest behind me because now they have a new head coach there, a whole new staff," Harris said. "I feel like me going undrafted was actually a good thing because if not who knows what team I would have ended up on? Now I have the opportunity to play and show what I can do. I can't ask for anything more than that."

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers-LeGarrette Blount union is not going to end well.

The only question after Blount reportedly left the field before the end of the Steelers' 27-24 win against the Tennessee Titans is whether it ends sooner rather than later.

Blount couldn't be bothered to stick around for a win that Le'Veon Bell, his best friend on the team, helped deliver because he didn't receive one carry Monday night at LP Field.

The selfish act screamed the kind of me-first attitude that may explain why Blount is with his fourth team in five NFL seasons even though he is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for his career.

Cutting ties with Blount, who picked up an early strike with the Steelers in August when he and Bell were charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, would easily be addition by subtraction.

The Steelers probably would love nothing more than to get Blount as far away from Bell as possible -- and to jettison the kind of attitude that might poison younger players.

Releasing Blount, who signed a two-year, $3.85 million deal last March, wouldn't put the Steelers in a tough place from a salary-cap standpoint because they only guaranteed his $975,000 signing bonus. If the Steelers release Blount before the end of this season or in the offseason he will count just $475,000 against their 2015 salary cap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsIn 11 games played for the Steelers this season, LeGarrette Blount has 130 fewer carries and 685 fewer yards than teammate Le'Veon Bell.
That is a pittance.

The problem with the math when it comes to cutting Blount before the end of this season is the Steelers simply don't have many bodies -- or options -- at running back.

Rookie Dri Archer is the No. 3 back behind Bell and Blount and the scatback has played so sparingly that he is averaging just over one carry per game.

Bell, as he showed in his trucking of the Titans, is fully capable of handling a full workload. And the second-year man gets a bye week to rest up before the Steelers play their final five games of the regular season.

But if Bell were to go down for an injury for an extended period of time and the Steelers had only Archer in reserve -- and whatever back they signed off the street if they released Blount -- the season might go with him.

The short-term risk may just be worth it in the long run considering the message it would send.

But it is probably not one the Steelers are willing to take just yet because they are 7-4 and just percentage points out of first place in the AFC North.

Blount, however, can probably count on some terse words from coach Mike Tomlin, a fine of some sort and maybe even a suspension unless he has some plausible explanation for why he left the field early.

Tomlin also can point out that even though Blount's days in Pittsburgh are probably numbered, he better be on his best behavior the rest of the season.

Blount, after all, is going to have to convince yet another team to take a chance on him. The only question is when that time will come.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 10, 2014
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers stumbled badly after winning three in a row and the 20-13 loss to the New York Jets was a total team effort. I may have been a tad generous with the marks, low as they are.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger's statistical line -- he completed 30 of 43 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown -- is hard to reconcile with how he played against a secondary that was ripe to be exploited. The two interceptions he threw were costly -- and head-scratching -- considering Roethlisberger had been picked off just three times in the Steelers' first nine games. Grade: D

RUNNING BACKS: The running game is in a rut. The Steelers averaged 2.1 yards per carry after averaging just over 3.0 yards per carry during their three-game winning streak. Neither Le'Veon Bell nor LeGarrette Blount were a factor in the game, and the former had the Steelers' longest run from scrimmage. That 8-yard gain was cancelled out by Blount's 8-yard loss when the Steelers were at the Jets' 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Grade: D

RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown showed he is human, losing a fumble late in the first quarter that set up the touchdown that gave the Jets a 17-0 lead. Rookie Martavis Bryant had a game-high 143 receiving yards and his 80-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers a chance to tie the game. Markus Wheaton was quiet with four receptions for 43 yards. Grade: C-

OFFENSIVE LINE: The running backs had nowhere to go and Roethlisberger was sacked twice and hit seven other times. There were stretches when the line gave Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw but the Jets' front seven certainly got the better of this matchup. The Steelers need to re-establish the run moving forward and that starts up front. Grade: C-

DEFENSIVE LINE: It allowed the Jets to impose their will early though it settled down and largely did a good job against the run even though the Steelers allowed 150 rushing yards. The Jets didn't overpower the Steelers when they ran as much as they tricked them and also benefited from quarterback Michael Vick scrambling away from pressure. Defensive end Cameron Heyward had a sack and two quarterback hits. Grade: C+

LINEBACKERS: Lawrence Timmons turned in a game-high 13 tackles and outside linebackers Jason Worilds and James Harrison combined for four quarterback hits while Worilds also had 1 1/2 sacks. The linebackers did miss some tackles and also took some poor angles when rushing Vick. This unit played the best of any against the Jets though that's not saying too much. Grade: B-

SECONDARY: Cornerback William Gay had the Steelers' lone pass breakup and that was on a ball that Vick threw right to him and should have been intercepted. Gay also got beat on T.J. Graham's 67-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter though where was the safety help? Mike Mitchell's most memorable play, if you want to call it that, is when he dived over the line of scrimmage as Vick took a knee at the end of the game. Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wheaton returned a kickoff 34 yards and the Steelers may have finally found someone who can actually get the ball past the 20-yard line. Not much else went right in this phase of the game. Shaun Suisham badly hooked a 23-yard field goal attempt after making a 53-yarder at the end of the first half. An offside penalty on Darrius Heyward-Bey nullified a recovered onside kick in the fourth quarter. Brown lost a fumble on a muffed punt return. Grade: D-

COACHING: The Steelers came out flat and the game plan was uninspiring. Why didn't the Steelers try to attack the Jets downfield more considering New York was starting two backup cornerbacks? Coach Mike Tomlin did not manage his timeouts all that well, and in the fourth quarter the Steelers looked like they were still trying to establish the run when they were down by 17 points. The Steelers' worst loss of the season starts with the coaches. Grade: F

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 3, 2014
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers generally received high marks after beating the Baltimore Ravens, 43-23, on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger has thrust himself into the midseason MVP discussion after throwing for an NFL record 12 touchdown passes in the last two games. Roethlisberger missed a couple of early throws before finding his groove and burying the Ravens with 340 passing yards and six touchdowns. Grade: A

RUNNING BACKS: The Steelers managed just 55 rushing yards and averaged 2,5 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had some nice runs but managed just 23 yards on 10 carries. Le'Veon Bell was not a factor in the running game, though he did catch five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Grade: C

[+] EnlargeHarrison
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJames Harrison was part of a linebacking corps that had its best game of the season on Sunday.
RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown should be in the MVP discussion after catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and he continues to get help. Rookie Martavis Bryant caught two more touchdown passes, giving him five in three games. Markus Wheaton hauled in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a double-digit lead near the end of the first half. Six different receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass in the last two games. Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE: It endured a hideous stretch at the beginning of the second quarter when the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger on three consecutive plays. The line did not allow a sack the rest of the way, but it did not provide much running room for the running backs. The Steelers had some success running behind right guard David DeCastro but too many runs had no chance because of the lack of push up front. Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers held the Ravens to 63 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry, and their success in stopping the run started up front. Nose tackle Steve McLendon played well after missing the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt flashed as a pass rusher when the second-round pick got some snaps. Grade: B

LINEBACKERS: The unit played its best game of the season. Right outside linebackers James Harrison and Arthur Moats combined for three sacks and five quarterback pressures and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds intercepted a pass that set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. Grade: A-

SECONDARY: Cornerback Brice McCain gave up an early 35-yard touchdown catch to Torrey Smith but the defensive backs settled down after that. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had just one other completion that was 20 yards or longer despite throwing or 303 yards. Nickel back Antwon Blake broke up a pair of passes. Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: This unit’s biggest contribution came on a botched hold that Brad Wing salvaged when he completed a pass to tight end Matt Spaeth for a 2-point conversion. That’s all you need to know from a game in which the Steelers gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Wing netted just 36.5 yards on six punts. Grade: D-

COACHING: Mike Tomlin has pushed all of the right buttons during a three-game winning streak, and he won a key challenge that forced a Ravens punt in the third quarter. The defense continued to attack after battering Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck the previous week, and maligned offensive coordinator Todd Haley must be doing something right. The Steelers are averaging 41.3 points in their last three games. Grade: A