Bob Smizik: Against logic, Tomlin will continue to start veterans

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Random thoughts on the Steelers:

From Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin and including almost every coach in the NFL during that near half-century span, the mantra on Sunday is . . . win. It is not . . . build for the future.

The Steelers are 5-8. They can’t have a winning season. But they can avoid a losing season. It’s not just that. If the Steelers lose to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night to fall to 5-9 and eliminate the possibility of a non-losing season, the goal merely will change to going 7-9.

It might make all the sense in the world for the Steelers to give, say, third-round draft choice Markus Wheaton playing time over of Emmanuel Sanders, who in almost all certainty won’t be back next season. But it’s probably not going to happen.

Even though Wheaton likely will be asked to fill Sanders’ role next season, the chances are strong his first opportunity to do that will be the training camp of 2014.

Certainly nothing big is in the offing like the benching of the aging defensive backs, who might not be invited to return next season -- Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. Even veteran sub-package safety Will Allen is likely to get his normal playing time.

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The most ridiculous Steelers-related story of the week was the report that Mike Tomlin was a candidate for the University of Texas job that is expected to come vacant shortly with the forced resignation of Mack Brown.

It is rare when a pro coach leaves for a college job. The NFL is the premier sports league in the country. Why would a successful coach with job security be interested in stepping down a notch -- even if it might include a pay raise --to coach on the college level?

Two things NFL coaches don’t have to worry about: Recruiting and academic eligibility.

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Unless there is more to the Ben Roethlisberger-Todd Haley rift than is publicly known, the speculation the Steelers will be looking for a new offensive coordinator after the season is almost as irresponsible as the Tomlin rumor.

There is little ground on which to replace Haley. Roethlisberger was playing some of the best football of his career and the Steelers had the look of a Super Bowl contender through nine games last season, which was Haley’s first on the job. Roethlisberger had thrown for 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions and had a passer rating of over 100 when he was injured. Although he returned after missing three games, he, clearly, was not in full health.

After a turnover-marred start to the season, Roethlisberger again is playing at a high level. Additionally, wide receiver Antonio Brown has elevated his play to elite level. There’s plenty to like about the Haley offense. It still has a way to go, but with a coalescing offensive line and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell showing promise, firing Haley would not make much sense.

•••

There’s no telling who the Steelers will take with their first pick in the draft or what position he’ll play. But this is pretty much a guarantee: It will be a defensive player.

Other than a possible successor to Heath Miller at tight end, the Steelers shouldn’t be looking for much on offense. But on defense that have a lengthy wish list.

Take your pick: Nose tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker, safety, cornerback.

•••

It’s easy to second-guess after the fact, but what exactly were the Steelers thinking after last season when they decided to keep Taylor and to not so much as make an offer to cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was snapped up in free agency by New Orleans?


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