Ward believes run game will improve

Hines Ward talks again about adding balance to the offense; Mike Tomlin bristles about fullbacks; on minicamp absentees.

Even wide receiver Hines Ward wants the Steelers to run more in 2010.

"Yeah, I do, just to be more balanced," Ward said. "I mean it's great to put up numbers but to complement our defense -- who weren't as powerful as they normally are -- we have to control the ball more. I suspect we can."

The Steelers worked more on their running game and using a fullback during their three-day minicamp last weekend. With team president Art Rooney II strongly suggesting that "We need to figure out how to get better running the football," it's no wonder.

Coach Mike Tomlin has said he agrees with Rooney, that the Steelers need to run more effectively. Their once-proud ground game ranked just 19th in the NFL last season; more importantly, they weren't able to run when they wanted or needed to, such as in short yardage, red zone or to try to hold fourth-quarter leads.

"Last year we had a prolific offense," Ward noted. "We had two 1,000-yard receivers, a 1,000-yard back and a 4,000-yard quarterback, and we were out of the playoffs. Go figure that."

There's a school of thought, however, that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is not capable of making such a commitment to the running game. Arians long has been a proponent of the pass and proudly proclaims he has no fullback in his offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrived under Arians' offense, setting team passing records in the process. He became the first in Steelers history to pass for 4,000 yards when he threw for 4,328 last season. Roethlisberger and Arians have forged a close relationship, so much so that the quarterback bought his place in Georgia after Arians had bought one and recommended it to him.

Some believe the relationship might be too close to the point that it has hurt the Steelers' running game.

"We don't TRY to throw the ball," Ward maintained. "It's just in some cases Ben likes to run the no-huddle and when you run the no-huddle you add probably about 10-15 more attempts to your passing plays. So when he throws 20-25 times, add 10-15 more attempts by doing the spread huddle."

Yet Ward thinks the Steelers will try to mix in the run more with halfback Rashard Mendenhall and rookie Jonathan Dwyer.

"I predict we'll be more balanced. Look for Mendenhall, for us to use a lot of him. Dwyer looks like he's coming on strong. Who knows? I would like to be a more balanced team, I think it complements our defense and makes us a better ball team."


* The topic of whether the Steelers have a fullback or not seems to be a touchy one with coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers list one on their roster and he never has played the position since he was a freshman in high school. Demetrius Taylor, an undrafted rookie, played defensive tackle at Virginia Tech.

Taylor is 6-feet, 270 pounds. Tomlin, who is from Virginia and played at William & Mary, went to VT's pro day and after watching Taylor work out, thought he could play fullback. Taylor was a running back and linebacker in high school.

"He had the explosive, fullback-type movements," Tomlin said. "He ran a 4.70 in the 40, he had a 9-something broad jump, he kind of looked like a fullback. I asked him if he had a (running back) background. He said he did, he was one in high school, he was recruited as one."

The Steelers used others at fullback during their three-day minicamp. Tight end David Johnson, who played an H-back role as a rookie last season and became their No. 1 "fullback," was there. So was tight end Sean McHugh, who spent last season on injured reserve but in 2008 played the same role as Johnson. Others were halfbacks Frank Summers and Isaac Redman.

Many Steelers fans decried the loss of the pure blocking fullback from the Steelers lineup when Arians took over the coordinator's job after the Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt as their coach in 2007. Dan Kreider was phased out in Pittsburgh, and was signed by Arizona.

They have used only halfbacks and tight ends to fill that job since Kreider left the Steelers.

"There's not a fullback on the roster," Arians famously declared before the start of the 2009 season. "There's a running back who plays fullback, a tight end who plays fullback. I don't have a fullback. There's no fullback in my offense, there's never going to be one."

Tomlin bristled when reminded of that comment during last weekend's minicamp.

"We got fullbacks," he shot back to a writer. "You guys take him too literally sometimes."

Whether there is a fullback or not, and how he is used or not, could be the fulcrum in which the Steelers running game turns in 2010, or not. Either way, it will be fascinating for Steelers fans to watch this "new" offense of Arians unfold, if indeed it does.

* The Steelers have taken two weeks off from practicing after their three-day minicamp last weekend. They have 12 OTA dates left and will use them each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting May 18 and concluding June 10.

* While his teammates worked through minicamp, Ben Roethlisberger spent last weekend in a clinic being evaluated as ordered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Depending on how that goes, Roethlisberger could return to the team or be asked to return for further evaluation.

* Roethlisberger has switched helmets to a Riddell Revolution Speed helmet that provides more head protection. He has worn the traditional helmet and said last season he liked its looks. However, after sustaining yet another concussion last season he opted for the new helmet.

* CB Bryant McFadden paid second-year CB Keenan Lewis an undetermined amount to get his No. 20 back. Lewis now wears No. 23.

* The agent for Jeff Reed spent Tuesday in Pittsburgh trying to negotiate a contract extension for the veteran kicker. Reed has signed his one-year contract as a franchise player for $2.814 million. He and the team have until July 15 to sign a long-term contract.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like a kid again, running around, playing a game that I've been playing for a long time. It's good to be back. It's good to be around the guys, good to be playing." -- Star-crossed WR Limas Sweed, two days before his Achilles tendon ruptured.

Steel City Insider Top Stories