PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't a question as much as a reporter relaying what starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders had said earlier.
That the Steelers players are more comfortable with Todd Haley this year. That the second-year offensive coordinator knows them better. That he better recognizes their strengths.
“Coach Sanders has a future,” Haley said.
He smiled. Then he laughed.
And it was not an awkward laugh but an easy one that corroborated Haley's claim of how much more comfortable he is going into the season opener than he was a year ago.
“It's light years away,” Haley said Thursday after practice. “Ben and I talked about that in training camp one day.”
The Haley-Ben Roethlisberger pairing drew most of the scrutiny when the Steelers made a change at offensive coordinator after the 2011 season. But that was only a small part of the transition Haley had to make when he joined the organization his father had helped build in the glorious 1970s.
One of the biggest reasons to think that the offense will be better is that Haley and Roethlisberger are in a better place than they were in 2012 because of their familiarity with one another.
“Change isn't always easy, it isn't always comfortable but if it's seen as a necessity then it has to happen,” Haley said. “I think that process has gone along and we're much further ahead at this point than we were a year and a half ago.”
Also notable from Haley's media session on Thursday:
Isaac Redman will start at running back Sunday, but Haley said the competition at the position is still an open one. “Until we see someone come in and take charge of it, it's anybody's as far as I'm concerned,” Haley said. “We're still looking for someone to take the bull by the horns and not let us take him out. The guys are going to have an opportunity in this case to showcase how much they want the job.” Redman said earlier this week that his goal is to play well enough to keep the other running backs on the sidelines. When asked if Redman will be kept in the game Sunday if he gets off to a good start, Haley said, “Absolutely.”
With starting tight end Heath Miller (knee) out, David Johnson, David Paulson and Michael Palmer will all play Sunday against the Titans. Haley said using Kelvin Beachum as a sixth offensive lineman/eligible receiver is also an option as the Steelers compensate for injuries at tight end. Paulson is the best pass catcher of the healthy tight ends, and Haley lavished praise on the second-year man from Oregon. "We've got a guy in David Paulson that has done nothing but impress," Haley said, "and he's got receiving and blocking skills."