LATROBE _ No one on defense would ever admit it and no one on offense would ever acknowledge it, but the Steelers nonetheless leave St. Vincent College looking like a team on which the offense is going to have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.
There’s hope the defense will be better than it was a year ago, when it couldn’t sack the quarterback, take the ball away or prevent plays of 40 or more yards nearly often enough.
Steps have been taken and there’s potential on that side of the ball.
But it’s the offense that has Ben Roethlisberger.
And Roethlisberger should have what he needs in terms of weapons and protection.
“You’re always optimistic this time of year but I am excited about this group,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley maintained. “I think that comes from how we finished the second half of last year. We really were doing a pretty good job offensively. You saw some pieces come into place. And now we’ve added some other talent into the group, both young and veteran guys, so I’m excited.
“I’m excited to see if we can get out of the gates a little better than we did last year and kind of pick up where we left off.”
When last season began the Steelers couldn’t keep the offensive line healthy, couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t protect the quarterback and couldn’t stop turning the ball over.
They eventually worked most of that stuff out well enough to perceive Haley’s optimism entering this season as legitimate.
The offensive linemen should be less susceptible to injury this season, the Steelers believe, because of a renewed emphasis on area-protection and less of a reliance on man-protection under new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
The running game intends to ring the Bell and roll the Blount.
The passing game has targets aplenty, from the obvious (Antonio Brown, Lance Moore and Heath Miller) to the intriguing (Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer and just maybe Martavis Bryant).
And the changes on the sideline (Munchak and new running backs coach James Saxon) have the Steelers looking like a team with an offensive staff that’s on the same page for a change in terms of how the Steelers will get done what they intend to get done.
All they have to do now is get it done.
“You gotta protect the football,” Haley said. “You gotta run it efficiently. You gotta run it efficiently when they know you’re going to run it, which enables you to close out games, be good in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
“I believe we’ll be a team that can throw the football.”
How consistently the offense gets it done, more than any other aspect of the operation, will determine the Steelers’ fate in 2014.
“Consistency in this league is really hard because it’s hard to win,” Haley said. “But that being said that’s the goal. Week in and week out we want to be a consistent offense that runs the ball efficiently and makes some big plays in the running game because I know we’ll make some big plays in the passing game.
“When you’re doing both and protecting it you should be a pretty fluid group. The name of the game is scoring points so if our identity is a high-scoring offense we’ll have done a good job.”