PITTSBURGH -- Steelers president Art Rooney II made his customary end-of-the season media rounds last week, and he didn’t offer many surprises. The Steelers intend to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension at some point and, as Rooney said, “We’ve got to have Ben retire as a Steeler.”
Rooney also said that the Steelers won’t deviate from past offseasons. That means the Steelers will concentrate more on re-signing their own players and pick their spots when it comes to bringing in outside free agents.
Rooney would not address the status of the Steelers' assistant coaches and specifically their coordinators as he said Mike Tomlin is still evaluating his staff. But some of his comments were telling, particularly in regard to second-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s future in Pittsburgh.
“I think the second year of a new offense you would hope for progress and I think that’s what we got,” Rooney said. “Certainly keeping Ben from taking hits is something we hoped for so I think that was part of the equation we were hoping for. The evolution of the no-huddle [offense] and the use of Le’Veon [Bell] as really a multipurpose back was really fun to watch and something I think we can build on.”
The decision on whether Haley, a frequent target of an criticism, returns in 2014 will ultimately be made by Tomlin. But given the way the offense came together in the second half of the season and Rooney’s satisfaction with the direction it is heading, I will be stunned if Haley isn’t back.
As for the Steelers’ defense, Rooney offered pointed comments on a unit that slipped from first in 2012 to 13th in total yards allowed, had trouble stopping the run and allowed too many big plays.
“We need to be better. There’s no denying that,” Rooney said. “Whether it’s age related or otherwise, I’m not too concerned about the age, it’s just about getting better.”
Does that assessment signal Dick LeBeau’s distinguished run as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator may be coming to an end? The guess here is no, assuming that the 76-yard LeBeau still wants to return in 2014, a desire he stated before the end of the 2013 season.
Rooney, like Tomlin, sees LeBeau every day and knows that the decline of the Steelers’ defense is more tied to injuries and age at some positions than any drop-off in LeBeau’s coaching acumen.
Rooney is cognizant of LeBeau’s body of work, which suggests, above all, that the man did not suddenly forget how to coach.
“We feel good about the coaching staff in general,” Rooney said, “and we’ll see where we go.”