Steelers coach optimistic about landing a running back

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Mike Tomlin’s day started with an AFC coaches breakfast with the media at 7:15 a.m., followed by a meeting of the eight-man competition committee of which he is a member, then lunch with Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II and a surprise visitor — cornerback Ike Taylor, who lives and trains not far from the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes resort.

When the NFL’s owners meetings conclude today with a vote on a number of rules and bylaws proposals put forth by the competition committee, Tomlin’s work will not be finished.

He has another item on his agenda: Find a veteran running back in free agency when he returns to Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have a need for one to back up Le’Veon Bell, and Tomlin said he is “optimistic” they will sign one, perhaps very soon.

The possibilities include former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited with the Steelers last week; and former New England Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount, who will meet with Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert Friday on the South Side when they return from the meetings.

“We need to have depth in that area and we will in the not-too-distant future, whether it’s in free agency or the draft,” Tomlin said Tuesday at breakfast.

Jones-Drew is drawing interest from three other teams — the Patriots, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets — and is reportedly seeking $4 million per year. The Steelers, however, thought they had a productive meeting with Jones-Drew and felt good about the possibility of signing him.

“We’re looking to add depth at that position, and a guy of that caliber, a been-there, done-that type of veteran, will be an asset for us,” Tomlin said.

Signing a veteran running back is important for several reasons, but especially because Bell is the only back from the 53-man roster last season who remains under contract. It would also allow the Steelers to delay taking a running back until the middle rounds of the draft and let them concentrate on finding the type of speedy, specialty back that offensive coordinator Todd Haley likes to have.

The Steelers have the luxury of extra draft choices after the league awarded them three compensatory picks in the May draft, including a third-rounder for losing receiver Mike Wallace.

“I was expecting it, but, at the same time, it’s like Christmas — it’s great, particularly this time of year when you’re out evaluating talent,” Tomlin said. “You feel real good about the opportunity to add three more guys who could be significant.”

If the Steelers sign a veteran running back, and chances are good they will, they likely won’t sign another significant free agent before the draft. Former Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats, who signed a one-year, $795,000 contract Monday, was the fourth free agent signed by the Steelers.

Tomlin said Moats, 26, is versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker.

“He was an edge rusher in college who proved in Buffalo he is capable of playing off the ball,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to see what’s best for us.”

Tomlin touched on a number of other topics:

• On hiring former Tennessee Titans coach and Hall of Fame player Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line: “He’s a credibility guy both as a player and as a coach. I’m excited about what he brings. He’s a football junkie. I look forward to watching him work with our young men.”

• On wide receiver Markus Wheaton, the third-round choice last year who is replacing the departed Emmanuel Sanders: “I’m looking forward to him taking a significant step. He needs to.”

• Tomlin said he had to be different and took a different approach as a coach last season with so many new players: “My job as a coach is to provide guys what it is they need, not necessarily what it is they want. Sometimes, it’s the same. As the group changes, so should I.”

• He said new wide receiver Lance Moore had a significant rapport with quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans and “hopefully, he’ll do the same with Ben [Roethlisberger].”

• On the decision to bring back cornerback Ike Taylor for one more season: “His relationship with this franchise goes beyond profession. We’re excited about retaining him. It’s awesome. I love and respect Ike Taylor.”

Owners unanimous

The owners passed two proposals from the competition committee, including allowing replay officials to consult with the league’s officiating department in New York during reviews. They also approved a proposal that offers more protection to a player’s leg on roll-up blocks.

Both measures were approved unanimously.

“I think that we are all interested in perfection, from a rules standpoint,” said Tomlin. “And I think the expertise associated with central command or having the ability to consult with New York, I think, is something that is beneficial to all of us.”

Tomlin said he didn’t think the owners would approve the proposal submitted by the Patriots to move the extra point back to the 25.

“I really think more than anything everyone is interested in preserving the play,” Tomlin said.

Gerry Dulac: and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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