Haley: Steelers players, offense melding
Steelers coordinators Dick LeBeau (defense) and Todd Haley (offense) talk during organized team activities Wednesday at the South Side practice facility.
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The Book of Todd, a collection of plays introduced to the Steelers this spring, already has reached hieroglyphical status thanks to a few students who have commented on its difficulty.
While some may hold that Ben Roethlisberger has been front and center with his concern about the new offense, its creator has not experienced that.
"I haven't sensed any of that concern, at least me personally," said Todd Haley, hired by Mike Tomlin in February to coach his offense and permitted to speak publicly Wednesday for the first time since then. "He's been in here, he's been working hard, he's into it. Even on the days he hasn't practiced, I mean he's over my shoulder talking, commenting, discussing.
"That's what I've seen all the really good quarterbacks I've been around act like. I'm just excited about his and our opportunity. He's a guy who has been a very good player and we're going to try to keep that going and even get better."
Several times this spring, Roethlisberger -- he was absent Wednesday to attend to a personal matter -- has talked about how difficult the offense is to grasp, but Haley said his quarterback has been picking it up.
"He's like everybody else. He's learning, he's concentrating and working hard on it, and he's making progress. He obviously is a great player and can continue to be a great player. I'm excited about the opportunity here to be working with Ben, really with all these guys. It's a great group of quarterbacks."
Keeping Roethlisberger healthy -- something Steelers president Art Rooney said in January should be more of a goal -- will require some help from the quarterback, Haley said.
"That will always be the emphasis. Any quarterback you have [you want] to keep hits off them. That's just smart football. And you do it in a number of ways, and a lot of it falls on his shoulders also.
"One of his greatest weapons is his ability to make plays when things break down and that will put him in duress at times. But, at the same time, it's one of the best things he does and it's what separates him from all the other guys in the league, for the most part. You don't want to take that great ability away from him. It's understanding what's going on, understanding when we want the ball to be coming out quick, understanding when we want to run it. That's all going on right now."
Haley introduced the Steelers to an entirely new offense with new terminology for the first time since Mike Mularkey was promoted to coordinator in 2001. He declined to go into much detail but promised it would be heavy on using the assets available to him.
"We want to be, No. 1, a physical group whether we're throwing it or running it. We want to be a smart group and -- it's coach speak -- but we want to be a disciplined group. If we're that with the guys we have out here working, at least in my estimation, we ought to have a chance to be pretty good."
Haley also emphasized, "This is not my offense, it's our offense, and we've worked hard to get where we are."
Toward that end, the Steelers will go over the same material for the third time next week when they hold minicamp Tuesday through Thursday to wrap up spring practices and a 6 1/2-week break before training camp opens July 25.
"Like I said, we have a long way to go, but through this stage I feel good about where we are and I think our guys feel good where we are, coaches and players. Next week will be a real big week for us because we're going to backtrack and do exactly what we did again. It'll be really their third time hearing it. Training camp will be our fourth. ...
"You use all this time. It'll be training camp and then the real preseason games before anyone is totally comfortable. That's each and every year because every year you're making enough changes that guys have to learn and you have personnel changes that affect how you play. We'll use all this time. I'm excited about it and I feel the guys are excited about it."
Nevertheless, he can understand if there is apprehension as well.
"Change is not always comfortable. Sometimes when there are changes -- players, coaches, a lot of changes go on every year -- that has a way of keeping guys on their toes, keeping their focus and understanding of what the goal is and that's to win Super Bowls and win one this year. That's our goal and that won't change. We have to do that with the guys we have here."
Haley will have a fullback in his offense, and while David Johnson has been put there full time this spring, he might not be done playing some tight end.
"David is doing a very good job," Haley said. "Really, the thought process there with David, he knows tight end, he's comfortable with TE. Fullback is obviously something we haven't had that body type here and he had done most of it. That's also a position that if you're playing you have to be back there on a full-time basis, at least in the learning stages. We know David can move both directions and that will give him great value especially on the game-day roster.
"He's jumped head-first into the fullback stuff knowing he's in the learning stage and trying to get as much as he can. It doesn't mean he won't be lining up at tight end either."
Even with Rashard Mendenhall out for an undetermined amount of time as he rehabs from ACL surgery in January, Haley believes he has the running backs to do what he wants to do on offense.
"We have a good, diverse group. You kind of have all the parts you like as a coordinator. You have big backs who can run it hard up the middle. You have some quicker, faster backs who can play outside for you. I'm excited about the group in general."
As for how the absence of Mike Wallace will affect the wide receiver's learning of the offense, Haley said, "He'll be behind a little bit, but he has to pick it up, so he will. We'll make sure that occurs." ... And as to whether he has displayed any of his infamous fiery reputation with the Steelers this spring, "No-no, I don't flip that switch until a little later. This is offseason for them to learn, get in shape, condition. Training camp, we'll pick it up a notch."
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 am