Ben Roethlisberger didn't entirely like the offense, its nuances and terminology. Neither did some of the assistant coaches. Most of all, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn't totally like it, either.
So, after the Steelers tumbled into the bottom third of the NFL in offensive production last season, Haley went about reworking the system he brought with him to Pittsburgh following nearly three seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach.
The Steelers officially began practicing that reworked offense as they went through the first of 13 team practices Tuesday, and Roethlisberger said everyone involved likes this package better.
The quarterback did not disclose the changes or even hint at them —“You'll have to wait until the first game,” he said — but it was obvious he seemed more comfortable with the offense than he did at any time last season.
“There's been some changes this offseason in some of the offensive philosophies, playbook and some things that I think are good,” Roethlisberger said as he began his 10th season with the team. “It's some compromise from all the different position coaches, the running back coaches, the line, and quarterback coaches. I think we've taken a little bit of everything and made it a lot better.”
He added, “You can ask anybody on offense that, including coaches, and they'll tell you that we all like the way the offense is and where it's going.”
The Steelers did not permit their assistant coaches to talk to the media Tuesday, so Haley was not available to detail alterations that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes were necessary after the Steelers tumbled to 21st in total offense last season. They were 12th in 2011, 14th in 2010 and seventh in 2009, all under former coordinator Bruce Arians, last season's NFL Coach of the Year.
“Last year, coach Haley was in his first year bringing his system here and it was our first year in his system. We were off a little bit and it was obvious on the football field,” Sanders said. “This year, we're working hard to not allow that to happen again so that we can score points.”
There was considerable speculation at the start of last season how well Roethlisberger would work together with Haley, who was seen as more of a taskmaster and potentially more abrasive than Arians, who was close friends with the quarterback.
While there was no public feuding or finger-pointing, Roethlisberger was critical of the offense following an overtime loss to the Cowboys on Dec. 16 that ultimately cost the Steelers any chance of making the playoffs. Roethlisberger subsequently apologized.
On Tuesday, it was Roethlisberger who disclosed the offensive changes. “(Running backs coach) Kirby (Wilson) and Randy (Fichtner, the quarterbacks coach) and guys really wanted to contribute and get some points and some things across that they felt could help this team. We all did,” he said. “It was nothing about, ‘Let's change this offense.' It was about, ‘How can we get better?' We're making strides to be better.”
Did Roethlisberger specifically request any of the offense be reworked?
“There were some things,” he said, laughing, without offering any further explanation.
That offense will have a different look now that Sanders has replaced wide receiver Mike Wallace, who signed with the Dolphins, and second-round pick Le'Veon Bell will push Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to start at running back. And either Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert will slide over from right tackle to the left side to replace Max Starks.
“Obviously, we're going to miss Mike as a person, friend and teammate,” Roethlisberger said. “(But) we've got to be ready to move on.”