On The Steelers: Offense will play by the (new) book

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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Roethlisberger has a new coordinator, a new playbook and a new language to speak Steelers offense with his teammates.

At age 30, Roethlisberger must learn a completely new system for the first time in his nine-year career. How he takes to that task could signal the success or failure of Todd Haley in Pittsburgh.

Since his rookie season in 2004, Roethlisberger has had nothing but a succession of in-house coordinators -- Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians -- each of whom maintained the offense of his predecessor with some modifications.

Haley will throw out Arians' playbook in favor of his own, with one concession: He will keep line coach Sean Kugler's blocking schemes.

Such a move with a new offensive coordinator helped quicken Chuck Noll's retirement as a coach. He hired Joe Walton as offensive coordinator in 1990 and Walton installed his offense, which included new terminology. Quarterback Bubby Brister did not embrace the change and that filtered down to his teammates and ultimately led to a dysfunctional offense, and, after two seasons, Noll retired rather than make another change at the coordinator's spot.

Haley's new offense needs Roethlisberger's total commitment, and head coach Mike Tomlin believes that will happen.

"I think the more those two guys work closely, they will get an understanding of who they are, what their desires are from a professional standpoint, and I don't expect any issues in that regard," Tomlin said. "Through my experience with both men, I anticipate them getting along great because both men have a desire to be great at what they do, both guys are singularly focused on winning championships for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that is a great place to begin."

The coaches are not permitted to work with the players until April 16, and Tomlin said the new playbook will not be introduced before then. He does not believe anyone will have trouble learning Haley's system or the terminology that goes with it.

"When you get to this point in your career, whether as a player or a coach, you have heard it in a variety of ways. We are all bilingual, if you will, when it comes to football language. We are not going to get caught up on what we are calling. I think it's important that the guy making the calls when the play clock is running is comfortable."

That guy is Roethlisberger, who embarks on the most important transition of his career since he replaced an injured Tommy Maddox in the second game of the 2004 season.

"He just needs to continue to evolve as a player, like all of our guys do, and I fully expected him to do that," Tomlin said. "Ben is a competitor, Ben is a professional. He is going to continue to work at it, he is not going to rest on past success, he is going to continue to chase dreams and goals, and I think the evolution of his game is a part of that."

Playbook input

As for that playbook, Tomlin wasn't ready to reveal it to the media either. He said all of the offensive coaches have been involved.

"It's been fun. He is very flexible and very sound in his approach," Tomlin said of Haley, a former Steelers ballboy whose dad, Dick Haley, played for the Steelers and then became their personnel director in the 1970s through the '80s. "We've had awesome discussions in terms of building it, but as I always say, and it will be the case, we are going to build our attack around the strengths of our men. Ben Roethlisberger is a talented guy. We have talented receivers. We have an interesting group of running back prospects. We are putting together an offensive line.

"We are laying down the fundamental basis of how we are going to approach what is going to be good for us, regardless of circumstances. I really think some of the personality things, some of the things that will capture people's attentions, have yet to be discovered because of roles and so forth. We've had some good discussions. He has really brought some awesome ideas and approaches to the group."

No wide receiver issues

The Steelers do not expect to lose Mike Wallace, and Jerricho Cotchery has yet to draw much interest from other teams in free agency. They want both of them back and if they do return, their corps of wide receivers should again be strong with those two plus Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

However, if for some reason they lose both, they could be in dire straits with only Brown and an injury-plagued Sanders. It would leave them scrambling for receivers, either through free agency or the draft. Wes Lyons could suddenly become a strong candidate to make the team.

"Sure, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned, but I am not," Tomlin said. "It will play itself out. We feel comfortable with our plan. We feel comfortable in our ability to develop young players ...

"Again, we intend to [add receivers], whether it be through free agency or the draft, or both. We have been thin at that position before, and we have acquired men like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and it has worked out OK. So, hopefully, it works out in a similar fashion."



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