On the Steelers: More focus put on running game
Share with others:
How do the Steelers become more adept in their ground game next season? Simple, according to their offensive coordinator.
"You just focus on it," said Bruce Arians.
Arians and the rest of the Steelers' offensive coaches have a mandate from the team president to run the ball more consistently in 2010 than they did last season, when the once-proud Steelers ground game ranked 19th in the NFL.
Art Rooney did not say the Steelers needed to run the ball more; he said they needed to run it more effectively. Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged as much later, and Tuesday, Arians agreed in his first interview since the end of the season.
"At the end of the game, in the four-minute [offense] to run out the clock and not punt the ball, short yards, goal line are areas we have to be more efficient," Arians declared.
Arians did not get into specifics, but said the Steelers will work on it more, and players say they have been doing that. Arians cited some of the changes that involved the backfield last season that likely led to the inconsistency. The Steelers lost their starting halfback, Willie Parker, to a toe injury in the third game of the season. It took Rashard Mendenhall some time to get up to speed, so much so that Tomlin benched him for a game for missed assignments in practice. They released their short-yardage back, Gary Russell, for reasons that remain hazy, and the tight end they used effectively as a fullback, Sean McHugh, was lost for the season to injury.
"Get better at it," Arians said is the goal. "Get better at it and, again, the change between Willie, Rashard, Mewelde [Moore] -- they all do things differently. We kind of found what Rashard did pretty well, and he had real good success. When Willie got back healthy in the last game or two, he had some success.
"Yeah, I think the critical runs -- short-yardage, goal-line -- have been a problem. They got addressed with Gary Russell. Now, is it going to be Rashard? It could be Isaac Redman, it could be a bunch of guys. Is it a back or is it by committee? Those are the things. This time of year, you get your running game going, but, in training camp, you find out that short-yardage stuff and you win jobs that way."
Many of the Steelers' passing yards should be credited to the ground game, Arians said, because they began as running plays and morphed into passes because of what the defense did.
"Take the Super Bowl for example. There were seven catches or six catches Santonio [Holmes] had that were running plays when [there were] safeties blitz that are unblockable, and you have runs called. So it's not a 'number' of runs because we threw the ball out there and got a bunch of yards. 'Oh, that's a good pass.' No, that was a running play. That happens quite often. And what we do, we take some short screen stuff and treat that as [part of the] running game."
Arians, then, was satisfied with much of the way the Steelers ran last season except in those situations that often are most critical, trying to run out the clock and trying to get a first down in short yardage. Some of the blame for that also must fall on the offensive line, one reason Tomlin hired Sean Kugler to replace Larry Zierlein as offensive line coach too.
"There's a lot of different stuff, but, basically, it'll be the same," said Arians. "Techniques are a little different, the way he teaches things. It's been a real good breath of fresh air the way he sees some of the guys and the pulling and stuff. Larry did a hell of a job, and Larry's a good friend, but Sean's done a nice job coming in."
Outside linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel did not practice. Andre Frazier filled in for Harrison, and Nick Eason, not Ziggy Hood, filled in at right end. ... Will Allen is running at strong safety in the absence of Troy Polamalu. ... Kick-returner Stefan Logan, who played wide receiver last season (or at least practiced there) and is listed as a wide receiver on the depth chart, is at running back. That is where he played in the Canadian Football League and where the Steelers first tried him last spring. ... Former Pitt punter Adam Graessle has been doing a lot of kicking off this week. ... Linebacker Thaddeus Gibson and not defensive lineman Doug Worthington is the rookie not able to practice until classes end in June at Ohio State. Worthington has graduated and is practicing.