Todd Haley remains convinced the Steelers' inside power running game is among the best in the NFL.
But the Steelers' second-year offensive coordinator also thinks it was becoming predictable, allowing opposing teams to gang up on the inside, and one of the reasons the Steelers averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in 2012. That's part of the reason the Steelers are implementing some outside zone-blocking schemes this season -- to give them a viable alternative for their running game.
"We want to be a balanced team in general," Haley said. "I think we're one of best inside gap-scheming running teams, but, when we had to rely solely on it last year because we didn't have the ability to be versatile, defenses can gang up on you. So you're running uphill a little."
Haley wanted to use more outside zone schemes last year, but he didn't have the offensive-line personnel that fit that scheme. Now, with two young starting tackles and David DeCastro at guard, he thinks he does.
"We're younger and we're more athletic," Haley said. "No disrespect to Max [Starks] and Willie [Colon], they won a lot of games here, but they were at a stage where there were some limitations that you had to protect them a little bit. You couldn't do everything you wanted to do."
Injuries force new role for Gay
With injuries keeping cornerbacks Cortez Allen (knee), Curtis Brown (ankle), Terry Hawthorne (knee) and DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) on the sideline, nickel back William Gay has been lining at left corner with the first-team defense.
Gay was re-acquired in the offseason from the Arizona Cardinals to be the team's nickel back in their sub packages. Typically, the Steelers prefer to keep him inside rather than use him on the outside, even as a backup.
"You just have to play football," Gay said. "It doesn't matter where you are on the field. Cornerback, period, is a hard job. You have to be willing to go out there and fight. It's a you-against-the-world mentality. That receiver thinks he's better than you. Wherever you are on the field, inside or outside, it's just a tough job.
Gay is better suited at nickel back than on the edge because he can play more with his eyes in the backfield. The Steelers rarely will move him outside, even if there is an injury to one of their top corners.
"We call it having green on both sides," Gay said about playing nickel. "You look right, you got a lot of grass. You look left, you got a lot of grass. You got to be willing to work in space. You got to feel comfortable. You don't have any boundary, any sideline, to work with."
LeBeau's long ago sub did well
When the Denver Broncos beat the Detroit Lions, 13-7, Aug. 5, 1967 in a preseason game, it marked the first time a team from the American Football League beat a team from the NFL.
Now, just a few days removed from the 46-year anniversary of that moment, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau remembers the game for another reason.
"It was the only year that I held out," LeBeau said Wednesday. "After the Lions lost, they signed me the next day. I don't know where I'd have ended up. I don't know how far apart we were, but, in those days, it could have been $5,000."
And that wasn't the half of it.
"The guy who replaced me that night in Denver?" LeBeau said, smiling. "Fellow named Lem Barney."
Barney, in his first pro start, likely didn't have his best game against the Broncos. But both players wound up doing all right. Their busts in Canton, Ohio, will attest to that.
After returning from having fluid drained from his knee, tight end Matt Spaeth was carted from practice after he appeared to injure his lower leg in a blocking drill pitting tight ends against linebackers. Coach Mike Tomlin did not know the extent of the injury. "He maybe stepped on someone's foot," Tomlin said. Spaeth has been the No. 1 tight end while Heath Miller recovers from major knee surgery. ... Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who had been out with a big toe injury, returned to practice. ... Tomlin said the ankle injury to Curtis Brown is "not anything serious" and he expects the third-year cornerback to return soon. ... Asked what he will look for from his rookies in the first preseason game Saturday night against the New York Giants at Heinz Field, Tomlin said: "Just how they deal with failures. When you get in a stadium-like setting, that's one of the things we don't know about these guys at this point. Do they wear failures? Are they capable of moving on? Do they stack negative play on top of negative play? Are they capable of moving past it? That's one of the critical things you don't know about young guys."
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com or Twitter @gerrydulac.