Rooney discusses Steelers, Tomlin; is excited for team's future

Steelers president Art Rooney II said today that “as far as I’m concerned we should be in the playoffs” and that the team’s 6-2 finish in the second half of the season has him excited for 2014.

Rooney, interviewed by three reporters early this afternoon, praised the way Mike Tomlin had his football team competing hard after losing its first four games and going 2-6 in the first half of the season.

“I like the fact we got better as the season went on, which is what you want,’’ Rooney said.

“I thought Mike did a very good job, though we created our own situation ... Our team continued to play hard through adversity and that’s not always easy to do. They fought hard all the way through and we came pretty darn close to being in the playoffs.’’

The Steelers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, the first time that’s happened in 13 seasons. Yet Rooney cited several reasons for his optimism heading into 2014:

• The improved play of a number of young players which he said shows the “arrow points up.’’

• The direction the offense took in the second half of the season.

“I think we were pretty effective on offense down the stretch.’’

• Ben Roethlisberger’s improved play in the second half of the season, particularly getting sacked just seven times in the final seven games.

• The play of rookie halfback Le’Veon Bell who “looks to be the kind of player who can be a big contributor for us.’’

At the same time, Rooney noted the decline of the defense as a concern.

“Obviously, we want to get better. We slipped on defense in some areas this year, particularly stopping the run. No doubt, there’s room for improvement there” along with giving up “too many big plays.’’

Among other topics broached by Rooney during an 18-minute interview today:

• Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows “our intention is we want him here beyond this contact” but an extension might not come this year or even next on a deal that runs through 2015. Traditionally, the Steelers have extended their starting quarterback’s contract when it has two years to run, as it does now. However, Rooney said while they’ve done that on a few occasions it is “not set in stone . . . it’s not something that’s automatic.’’

• He is not at all dissatisfied with general manager Kevin Colbert or his drafts.

“I’m not disappointed at all in the roster,’’ Rooney said. “I think there’s a lot to build on.’’

• The Steelers have informed the NFL that if they are hit with any more discipline because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline snafu in Baltimore they will appeal it. There were widespread reports that the NFL will dock the Steelers a draft pick even after fining their coach $100,000.

“I don’t believe it had a major impact” on the game in Baltimore, which the Steelers lost 22-20.

• He would not comment on the fate of any more assistant coaches because “Mike is still going through the process.’’ Tomlin continued to meet with players individually in his “exit” interviews today and has not yet met with his coaches. He did fire offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday.

• Rooney also said would not discuss individual players contracts or status when asked about linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

• Despite criticism from many venues that the Steelers have mismanaged their salary cap, Rooney said “I’m satisfied we handled the cap” properly and that is a reason they’ve remained competitive.

“Our goal is to put a competitive team on the field and by and large we’ve been able to do that.’’

• He does not expect the Steelers to diverge from the path they’ve followed recently in free agency. In other words, they won’t be major players but “we’re always opportunistic.’’

• The Steelers are going ahead with adding a second scoreboard on the north end of Heinz Field for 2014, but while they continue discussions with the city to add approximately 3,000 seats, even if they reach an agreement it won’t be soon enough for the 2014 season.

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