Todd Haley wouldn’t tip his hand as to the competition at the wide receiver position opposite Antonio Brown or to the specifics of the Steelers’ attempts to pick up where they left off regarding the no-huddle offense despite losing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency.
But when it came to looking ahead to the 2014 season, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator put his cards on the table for all to see.
“We have to run the football better,” Haley insisted.
Ranking 27th (tied) in the NFL in rushing again isn’t going to cut it.
The Steelers understand the circumstances that conspired against them while they were in the process of posting their worst finish in that category since 2003 (31st).
They started the season with running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Heath Miller injured and unavailable.
They lost center Maurkice Pouncey eight snaps into the campaign.
And they benched left tackle Mike Adams after an 0-4 opening month.
But that said the Steelers are convinced they have to be better on the ground.
They addressed the running game in free agency (running back LeGarrette Blount).
They addressed the running game in the draft (running back Dri Archer).
And they addressed the running game in making over the coaching staff (offensive line coach Mike Munchak).
They’re well aware of what Ben Roethlisberger can do as a franchise quarterback.
But the Steelers are nothing if not determined to provide for Roethlisberger a running game as a complement/viable alternative to what he can do in the no-huddle, from the pocket and on the move.
Haley’s media session on the first day assistant coaches were made available dripped with anticipation of a new-and-improved ground game’s potential.
“Getting Pouncey back is going to be huge for us,” Haley continued. “Adding LeGarrette Blount to the roster is going to be big for us. He is another big back, along with Le’Veon Bell having a full year under his belt now, which is huge also. He is no longer a rookie. He has worked hard. He has a different level of confidence also.
“I think running the football, whether we are huddling or no-huddling is something that we are going to do better, a lot better. And I think that will only help everything that we do, because I’ve said this before, I believe we will be able to throw it with anybody.
“When you can throw it as well as we did with the run game not exactly where we wanted it that tells you that you have a chance to be good. When you are running the football, it makes throwing it a heck of a lot easier.”
Conversely, when there’s no running game to count on even an offense that boasts Roethlisberger at quarterback, Brown at wide receiver and Miller at tight end can struggle.
The Steelers were reminded of as much the hard way last season.
They are convinced the path out of the 8-8 muck they’ve been stuck in the past two seasons must be traversed first and foremost on the ground.
“Running the football is a big part of what we have to do here going forward successfully,” Haley repeated.
The Steelers are committed to making that happen.
It was that way in OTAs.
It’ll be that way this week in veteran mandatory minicamp.
And it’ll be that way in 2014.