Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Under Pressure: Todd Haley
"Well, that's the goal," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I'm going to put in extra work to learn his offense and try to get there."
Pressed to sum up the first OTA practice running Haley's offense, Roethlisberger was honest: "It was frustrating. It gets frustrating at times. But we'll keep learning."
Something doesn't feel right in Pittsburgh. It has a lot to do with Haley's awkward arrival. Let's revisit how this went down:
1a. When the Steelers dispatched longtime coordinator Bruce Arians, they parted ways with a Roethlisberger confidante. The men were friends. They lived near each. Logged long hours talking football. Arians attended Ben's wedding. They were tight. This might seem trivial to you, but when the team dropped Arians without consulting their quarterback, feelings were hurt. On the field, the offense Big Ben had thrived in under Arians from 2007 to 2011 was history. At age 30, Big Ben is being asked to start over.
1b. Haley was hired without consulting Roethlisberger. Not a requirement, of course, but why not extend the olive branch? Haley is installing an offense players are calling "90 percent" different from last season's scheme. Big Ben was asked about that during a recent radio interview, per the Tribune-Review: "Uhhhh ... I think coach (Haley) really wants to challenge us. Me, maybe, in particular," Big Ben said. "I think he felt like I was real comfortable with the old offense, which ... I don't know why that's a bad thing. But I'm not the head coach."
On one level, suck it up, Big Ben. From another angle, why toy with a good thing in Pittsburgh?
3. Haley appears hell-bent on returning the Steelers to a ground-first attack. Slightly puzzling considering Pittsburgh's talented wideouts in a league increasingly obsessed with the passing attack. In New England, Bill Belichick recruits talented, versatile tight ends to offset Rex Ryan's pass rushers. In Pittsburgh, Haley is turning tight end David Johnson into a full-time fullback, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Running back Isaac Redman confirmed to the paper the team will stress the run game in 2012. It better work.
4. A final note: These are the Pittsburgh Steelers. A model franchise. Why? Because in a league where coaches barely unpack their boxes before they're sent on their way again, the Steelers have remained a consistent powerhouse. The team conjures thoughts of solid personnel moves, loyalty to players and the remarkable Rooneys. This entire episode -- from Arians to Haley -- is Pittsburgh finally blinking. The star quarterback's irritated and the team is moving away from what worked for so long. Haley sits at the center of a coming storm. He must replicate or surpass Arians' success this year -- or the fallout could be fierce.