And then his teammates started calling. Oh, they offered their most sincere congratulations, but they quickly came around to the good stuff. ">
And then his teammates started calling. Oh, they offered their most sincere congratulations, but they quickly came around to the good stuff. ">

Offense excited

Marriage agrees with Hines Ward. The Steelers' offensive MVP last season tied the knot last May and, as he put it, "it's all good." <br><br> And then his teammates started calling. Oh, they offered their most sincere congratulations, but they quickly came around to the good stuff.

"That's all they talked about, 'Super Bowl. We're going to win the Super Bowl,'" said Ward, who's also swept up in the excitement.

"I'm here for my sixth year," he said. "I'm more excited this year than I was when I first got here."

He's not alone. His running buddy at wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, said "I think people fear us to be honest with you."

Oh?

"We can win every game if we want to. It's all about us putting our minds to it. If we go out and play football and put everything to the side – stats and ego and all that stuff – the sky's the limit for this football team. I think everybody knows that."

Tommy Maddox knows it. Jerome Bettis knows it. Marvel Smith knows it. The rest know it. They all said so yesterday, the reporting date for training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

And why not? It's an offense that gained more yards last season than any Steelers offense since 1979. The players have a right to be excited, but the unique aspect Friday was that the coach of the unit didn't try to temper the excitement. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey instead poured gasoline on it.

"I'm probably more recharged than I've been at any training camp. I'm really, really excited about it," Mularkey said. "I've just had a lot of good, quality vacation time with my family and I'm ready. I really have a lot of energy and I'm excited about what possibly can happen this year with some of the things we're going to do offensively, defensively, special teams. I can't wait to see what happens."

Mularkey then began coaching. He emphasized to reporters what will become the offense's theme this camp: cutting down on turnovers. The Steelers led the AFC last season with 36 turnovers, fueled by 22 interceptions, which tied for the AFC lead.

"One of the reasons we're here is to try not to kill ourselves and this is where we'll try to really pay attention to detail," he said. "One of the main purposes of us being here is the little things."

Little things?

"Splits, footwork in the blocking game. Tommy, for example. If he has any doubt whether he can stick it in there or not, I'm just telling him ‘You can't. Drop it down. If there's any hesitation at all, just give it to the back, tight end, whoever it is, just dump it down and let him make yards.' Just little things like that we can work on while we're here."

Mularkey wants to focus on details and, at the same time, recapture the offense's physical reputation. The new pair of run-oriented tackles, Marvel Smith and Oliver Ross, will help in that regard. So, too, should Bettis, who reported to camp in stunning shape after his worst season with the Steelers.

Obviously proud of his physique, the running back with the tucked in shirt and tight shorts refused to reveal his weight. When asked for "the magic number", he answered "36", which of course is his jersey number.

"The big difference this year is that I was in training-camp shape in March or maybe April," Bettis said. "That was the big difference. It was a lot sooner. I went out to [train in] California in April and spent a whole month out there. That used to never happen. I've just been in a lot better shape a lot longer."

Bettis was asked if he'd been more inspired this offseason than normal.

"Whenever there are a lot of question marks around you, if that doesn't inspire you, nothing will," he said. His teammates appreciated the effort.

"He looks like when we played with the Rams together," said Maddox. "It's exciting to see him hungry and looking like that."

"To have Jerome come back in shape," said Ward, "and coming back the way he's wanting to come back, I know he's more excited than I am. He called me the other day. He's real excited just to get back into it."

"This year, everybody's just excited," Ward continued. "Everybody's happy to be out here. I'm trying to win a Super Bowl. I don't want to settle for anything less than a Super Bowl. Two years we came up short and it's frustrating to sit there when you have the talent and to come so close two years in a row is frustrating. But this year, I really think this year is going to be a special year."

Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com


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