Steelers president wants coaches to get younger players ready more quickly
January 17, 2010 3:00 PM
Rooney: Speed up the development
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rebuilding is not in the Steelers' vocabulary for 2010. They prefer the word revitalize. As Mike Tomlin reshapes his coaching staff for the first time after three seasons as head coach, the team's president looks to younger players to help keep the Steelers in contention.
And he would like to see the coaching staff develop those players more quickly than they have been.
Art Rooney II said while he is happy with how the Steelers have acquired talent through the draft the past five-plus years, he'd prefer to see those players contribute more.
"I do think that one of the things we have to do is probably get better at developing our younger players," Rooney told the Post-Gazette. "That's something we have to think about and make sure we're doing what we need to do to have guys being able to step in maybe a little earlier. And over the next year or two, there's no question we have some age on the defense and there's going to be some turnover.
"We'll see in the next year or two how some of these draft choices play out, but we think we have some good young guys on this roster who can step up and make a difference."
No draft pick has become a regular starter as a rookie since tight end Heath Miller in 2005. It took 2007 first-round pick Lawrence Timmons into his third season before he started at linebacker. Rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace became a productive No. 3 receiver this season and undrafted rookie Ramon Foster started four games at guard.
Feb. 24: NFL scouting combine, Indianapolis.
March 5: Free-agency period begins throughout the NFL.
April 22: Day 1 of three-day NFL draft, New York.
But the list of young players languishing on the bench are many, including two third-round picks this past season, guard Kraig Urbik and cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Of the four top draft choices in 2008, only halfback Rashard Mendenhall contributed over the past two seasons. Second-round pick Limas Sweed played little at wide receiver, third-rounder Bruce Davis was released after one season and fourth-rounder Tony Hills spent the past two seasons mostly inactive for games.
As the Steelers defense ages, it becomes more important to develop young players to take over.
"We have some things we have to address," Rooney said. "I think No. 1, we have to get some of our younger players ready to go, and I think we have some young players who can step in and be contributors. I think we're all comfortable that there are some guys on the team now who can step in and make a difference next year."
Count Rooney among those who thought the extended losses to injuries in 2009 of safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith made a difference.
"Certainly keeping certain guys healthy for most of the season would go a long way. In terms of Troy, you never want to put it all on one guy, the absence of one guy, because you have to be able to overcome injuries. But losing one of your best players is a tough blow for any team, combined with Aaron Smith. Keeping guys healthy is certainly something you hope happens.
"Beyond that, we have to have a good draft. For us, that's a key piece to the puzzle. We'll be drafting a little higher than we have been this year and so we have to do a good job with the draft and have some guys come in who will help in the near future, not right away but in the near future."
Rooney addressed several other topics:
• Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations, has one year left on his contract and often is rumored to be joining Bill Cowher if he takes another coaching job. Omar Khan, the team's lead negotiator and salary cap monitor, is one of two finalists for the general manager's job with the Seattle Seahawks.
"No. 1, as far as I know, Bill's not pursuing a job. We'd love to keep our people. We have good people, we'd like to keep them. By the same token, when you have good people, they're going to have opportunities once in a while. We'll deal with it if changes come. You just have to be prepared to adjust if something like that happens."
• Mike Tomlin has two years left on his contract. Traditionally, the Steelers negotiate an extension with their coach heading into that period.
"I don't like to speculate on what we're going to do with the coach, but let's just say we certainly hope and believe Mike's going to be here for the long term and we'll deal with contract situations as they come up. But we're very happy with Mike, and I think he's here for the long run."
• On why he believed his Super Bowl champs, at 6-2, went into a tailspin in five consecutive losses that began at home to Cincinnati and included setbacks to heavy underdogs Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland:
"Somewhere in the middle of that season I think we lost sight of the goal a little bit. We lost sight of the opportunity we had to do something special.
"You know, it's a long season, and I kind of look at the Cincinnati game and the Kansas City game as sort of two key games. I think our guys were really, let's say, disappointed coming off that Cincinnati game. Getting swept by Cincinnati is not something we're used to having happen. And I think there was a little carryover from that game to the next game and you can't afford to do that. You can't afford to go into a game against any opponent and take them lightly or worry about the last game. You have to be prepared every week in this league or somebody's going to jump up and get you.
"I think those two games started a little bit of a snowball that was hard to reverse. Thank God we did get it reversed because it would have been awful tough to lose the rest of them. But that was a tough stretch.
"I think we just have to be prepared to make adjustments and address things that we did not quite get right and I think we're doing that."