Offense's new look showing up at Steelers camp
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley gives instruction to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a workout at training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
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Todd Haley and Joe Greene go way back, to the 1970s when Haley first worked training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe as what he termed a water boy.
So, it's no surprise that Haley mentions Greene often when he talks. Sometimes, when both of them talk, they say the same thing. Take the Steelers' running game, for example.
In February, Greene expressed his dissatisfaction with how the Steelers had treated the running game under just-fired coordinator Bruce Arians, although he never mentioned him by name.
"You have to practice it, that's the thing," Greene said. "There is always a weakness in a defense for the run, but you have to be able to look for it. You don't just call the run because you get tired of throwing it or because someone wants you to."
He said the Steelers had a great quarterback and receivers in the 1970s, too, but still worked on the running game and used it.
"We could throw the ball when we had to, and we could run it when we had to," Greene said. "That's football, you do what you have to do when you have to do it. Run it when you need to, throw it when you need to. It's not all one way."
And here is what the team's new offensive coordinator said Tuesday:
"If you can run it when they know you're going to run it -- successfully -- and you can throw it when they know you're going to throw it, you have a chance to be real good, and that's what we're working on."
Steelers president Art Rooney II did not renew Arians' contract when it expired because he and many others in the organization did not agree with their coordinator's philosophy. Mike Tomlin then hired Haley, who returned the fullback to the offense and the idea that running the ball can be a good thing to complement the passing game. He also believes that in order to run it, you have to practice it.
So, if the early days are an indication, this training camp mostly will resemble 2004, when the coaching staff and new coordinator Ken Whisenhunt reintroduced a foundation for the ground game that it had abandoned in '03.
"I'm staying away from last year because I had my own set of encyclopedias going on somewhere else," said Haley, the former Kansas City Chiefs coach. "But I think that's the name of the game on offense is being able to get the yards you need on the ground when the defense knows your running, wherever that falls in the game, if it's critical short-yardage, if it's a four-minute situation."
Haley, though, has been quick to say the same thing about the passing game. He's not going to turn the offense back into a 55-45 run-pass ratio, and it's possible the team will pass more often than run. But the run and the pass could look different this season.
Even the defensive players have noticed the stark differences.
"Absolutely," Troy Polamalu said. "I see what you guys all see. Obviously, there's a lot more two-back offense and utilizing the fullback a lot more." And, in the passing game, "they are higher-percentage passes."
Haley's offense opened its first 11-on-11 team practice in pads Saturday by running on nearly every play. He noted that merely was the plan to start out with the run. Perhaps, but it seemed to set a tone for training camp.
"It's the way myself and our staff believe you have to play football," Haley said. "This training camp is part of establishing an identity, and we want to be a team I think most importantly can run it when we have to run it and throw it when we have to throw it. That's the key to keeping the defense off base."
With starter Rashard Mendenhall rehabilitating from January ACL surgery, do the Steelers have the backs to accomplish that goal? Isaac Redman will start, and those behind him own very little experience -- Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and rookie Chris Rainey.
"I'm excited about that group. I think we have a wide range of body types and skill sets, and that's good."
Polamalu agreed with what linebacker LaMarr Woodley said the other day. Even though the Steelers defense ranked No. 1 against points, total yards and passing yards, they did not play well last season.
He also mentioned that there was a disconnect between the offense and defense that usually has not existed, explaining that one did not pick up the other as in the past.
"That can be a very controversial question," he said when asked about it. "There were times we didn't turn the ball over and get the ball for our offense, and there were times where the offense didn't have the time of possession, and they always happened at the wrong time of the game.
"Sometimes [in previous seasons] when we're playing bad, the offense was able to control the ball and sometimes when the offense is struggling we're able to turn the ball over. But it just never matched for us last year."
• The Steelers released undrafted rookie offensive tackle Bridger Buche, signed days before camp opened, and signed rookie wide receiver Paul Cox (6 feet 5, 205 pounds) of Mississippi Valley State. San Diego signed Cox, who went undrafted, and released him a week ago. He will wear No. 81.
• Keenan Lewis left practice Sunday with an AC shoulder sprain, which can keep a player out for a while. Instead, he returned Tuesday to go through a full practice.
• For the third time, a thunderstorm struck moments after practice ended. "We danced the dance with the weather again," Tomlin said.
• Cornerback Terry Carter has a hamstring injury, and all others remained status quo.
• Tomlin said safety Damon Cromartie-Smith will come off the physically-unable-to-perform list today.
• Some scuffles broke out in a blocking drill involving wide receivers and defensive backs. One started between rookie corner Andre Freeman of Slippery Rock and receiver Derrick Williams of Penn State and then safety Ryan Clark joined the fray. Shortly afterward, two starters, Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor, went at it.
"It was very spirited," Tomlin said of that drill, "which is what we need this time of year."
First Published August 1, 2012 12:38 am