PITTSBURGH -- It was the day, finally, when we in the media could talk to the coaches of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But only the offensive coaches. The defensive coaches will answer questions today. So these are the questions I put Wednesday to the offensive coaches:
Richard Mann, wide receivers coach
Q: It looks like you have a lot of talent here. What's it looking like to you?
RM: "I think I got the guys that we had last year. I think they are stable. The new guys? Um, a lot of suspects there."
Q: Aw, c'mon, you're just being hard on them, aren't you?
RM: "No, no, no. We got a chance. You know we ain't playing tackle yet. I'm old school. Right here in the shorts we're learning the offense, we're learning how to run the plays. They look all right, but when the time comes to play tackle is when it'll really show who you got and what you got."
Q: You guys were pretty hard on Martavis Bryant last year, weren't you?
RM: "Right. We were hard on him. We held him out the first six because he wasn't ready. And when he got ready we let him go."
Q: Is it the same deal with Sammie Coates now?
RM: "He’s been a little banged up (missed last two practices). I think he had a pretty good week last week. We'll bring him along and make sure he learns the offense, and when we go to camp he’s got to hit the ground running."
Q: What's he showing you?
RM: "He’s showing me he’s a big kid that’s got some speed. I think he might be tough, because I saw it on tape whenever we were watching college tape. And I think he’s smart enough to learn it. So with that said, let's see when we put on pads what we've got."
Randy Fichtner, quarterbacks coach
RF: (in progress) "... I coach them all as though they're the starting quarterback because you want to be the best in the room. If I can get Landry Jones to be better than Ben Roethlisberger, we all win, including you."
Q: It doesn't look like it's happening though.
RF: "Probably not. Not right now, but that's why we practice and that's why we keep working. You know, it's a time when I say 'make or break.' It's a time in Landry's career in three years that he's had some reps and that's why at times I've got to give reps to some of the guys who haven't had that many reps to see where they're at in the amount of reps they would have compared to him."
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator
Q: Your offense is so explosive. Is success in the red zone your final frontier? And how's that coming along?
TH: "No, I think that's an area of emphasis for us, and like I said to me it’s not just when you hit the 20 and score touchdowns. What really hurt us last year I think as much as anything was we had too many possessions where we ended up with no points. We have a very good kicker in Shaun Suisham, so, really, how we changed our mentality once we hit the 35-yard line in decent weather conditions we have to assume that we have a chance to get three points. If we don’t end up with at least three then we have hurt ourselves. Too many times last year that occurred for different reasons, whether it was a turnover or a sack. We have to make sure that when we are in that area to get points that we get those points, because those add up surprisingly quickly."
Q: You have made other changes, though, haven't you? Isn't there more focus on finishing these drives?
TH: "Yeah. Absolutely. That’s an area of emphasis. We have to do a better job in the red zone. We got in there a bunch. You always want to get in there. That would be a goal. I think New Orleans or Miami, somebody, had 67 possessions. We had 55. The more you get in there the better, because with a good kicker you're going to end up scoring points. We have to finish with the ball in the end zone. We did a great job of scoring touchdowns outside the red, and we're pretty explosive in that area, probably up there with the tops in the league. But when we get down there in tight, where football gets tough, we have to get the ball in the end zone, whether it’s running or throwing."
I also wanted to talk to running backs coach James Saxon and offensive line coach Mike Munchak but those two slipped into the locker room while I was talking to the other coaches. So here are some of the more informative comments the above three coaches made to other reporters:
(Haley on whether offense can be better than last year:) "You can tell that some of those guys, like Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Le’Veon Bell, they are getting more comfortable. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be better. But I think the fact that they are more comfortable and understand how we are trying to do things, that it will only help them have a chance to be better. And that’s the goal."
(Haley on the offensive line staying healthy:) "I think a hidden factor in that health is that we have a lot of guys on the same page that understand the protections in the run game, and that keeps guys out of bad spots. That’s not something that everybody sees a lot. But I think our protection overall is better, and I think that’s where a lot of those things occur, and that meant we had less guys on the ground, or running into each other, some of those things that cause accidents that you don’t want."
(Haley on whether he was mandated to have Roethlisberger get the ball out more quickly:) "There was not a lot of discussion about that, but the name of the game was to get Ben to continue to evolve and get better with age, so to speak. I think he has done nothing but continue to improve, at least since I’ve been here."
(Haley on how well Roethlisberger works with the younger players:) "He wants to win. He understands we have a lot of young guys that need a lot of tutoring. He is taking the bull by the horns. He is getting more comfortable with the new guys around him. I think Ben taking them down to Georgia to work with them for a week, all those things kind of help foster that communication and comfort level for all of them. What I like is that all those young guys, when Ben is talking, their ears are perked up and they are listening. That’s a good sign."
(Haley on DeAngelo Williams:) "I think definitely this week you’ve seen DeAngelo really get more comfortable and he’s practicing a little faster. I told him that today. It’s a lot to learn for a guy that’s been in just one spot, and now he is trying to learn a whole new language, so to speak. And he’s done a good job studying it. Definitely this week you’ve really seen him get a little more comfortable and he is practicing faster."
(Haley on Dri Archer and Josh Harris:) "What I always like to talk about with them is that they are much more comfortable than where they were a year ago. They know the lay of the land. They know how we practice. They have so much more experience under their belt, even though they maybe didn’t play a ton of snaps. Just the ability to get ready to compete and practice in training camp, they are way ahead of the game. It shows. Both guys look much more comfortable and understand what and how they are supposed to do it."
(Haley on changes brought about by evolving college offenses:) "I think there are enough teams like us that still value tight ends like Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth that can block and be an integral part of what you are doing, like our free agent Cameron Clear. He has a big, good-looking body, and he had about six catches last year and wasn’t really on the field. It’s just what you value and what you think gives you the best chance to win. I think as long as we are all here, we will value a big tight end that can catch and block."
(Mann on the difference in Bryant this spring:) "I think this year will be better than last because the confidence is there. So we look for him to keep growing. He's definitely not where he needs to be but he's a lot farther ahead than he was last year at this time, obviously. But what I'm saying is the confidence is there, and with confidence comes playmaking ability."
(Mann on what it means to have his best player -- Antonio Brown -- be his hardest worker:) "I think the rest fall in line. When the lead dog, as I call him, works as hard as he does, it makes it easy to coach the other guys, because they follow."
(Fichtner on the evolution of Roethlisberger's game:) "I think there was some transition too when Todd got here, just in general in some philosophical-type throwing and protections and things like that. So as with anybody, change has to have some time to adapt, and I think now you are seeing less adaptation and a lot more communication. As with any time you have great communication, he's taken his game somewhat to another level."
(Fichtner on whether Roethlisberger's been playing his best football:) "You're going to say it statistically. But he’s going to say it and I’m going to say it that it's not his best ball until we win a Super Bowl. I mean, he’s been there, and that’s the expectation, so for him there’s no 'good ball' unless you win, and win the Super Bowl."