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Todd Haley has Big Ben, Steelers' offense on upward trajectory

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LATROBE, Pa. -- There's still plenty of Bill Parcells in Todd Haley, and there's proof in the way Haley looks at an offense everyone else on the outside is marveling at.

Used to be that a team flying high was what made Haley's old boss with the Jets and Cowboys least comfortable -- and most apt to come out cranky. So you can excuse the Steelers' fourth-year offensive coordinator if he gives you a nice, hefty preamble before extolling the virtues of a young group that ranked second in the NFL in 2014.

"We did a lot of really good things, and we get a lot of the guys back. But at the same time, it doesn't mean that we're gonna be good again, just because we were last year," Haley said. "We gotta go back to the baseline and build the foundation again, and make sure we're dotting the I's, crossing the T's. We gotta go through the process to get ready to play -- and be better than we were last year."

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Haley knows, just like everyone else here does.

His offense should be really, really good. And that puts the sometimes-controversial assistant in a much different spot than he's been in the last few years. No one's worried about who Haley is getting along with anymore. No one's reading the body language of the players as they converse with him. His not-for-everyone straightforward nature isn't seen as a negative.

In some corners, last year's success vindicated not only Haley but the Steelers, for making the uncomfortable switch from former coordinator Bruce Arians in 2012. Not that Haley's looking at it that way.

"No, because I really don't pay attention to it," Haley said. "And you can't. If you do, it's gonna make you make decisions you wouldn't otherwise make. You have to do what you were trained to do, taught to do and what you believe in, and try to be the best coach you possibly can. We've got a great staff here. We've got a great head coach. It's a fun place to work. And it's a place you wanna do your best, and that's the goal. We gotta be better than we were last year."

Last year, the Steelers ranked second in total offense and seventh in points. Ben Roethlisberger matched a career high with 32 touchdown passes, held his interception total to single digits (nine) and posted a quarterback rating north of 100 for the third time in his 11 seasons. Antonio Brown led the league in catches (129) and receiving yards (1,698) and trailed only Dez Bryant in touchdown receptions (13). Le'Veon Bell -- whose three-game suspension was reduced to two Tuesday -- was second in the NFL in rushing yards (1,361).

On top of that, the Steelers' offensive line will return intact for the first time in a decade, second-year pro Martavis Bryant looks like a monster early in camp, and the coaches say third-year pro Markus Wheaton probably had the best offseason of any of the receivers. The bar has been set at 30 points a game, and for good reason. The offense has the look, with youth everywhere, of a unit that should keep getting better.

Haley coordinated an intergalactic offense during his time in Arizona and helped lead strong, bullying units in Kansas City and Dallas. While he says he doesn't like comparing them, he'll concede that the Steelers' "chance to be as good running the football as we are throwing" is "what would probably separate this group from any of the others that I've been with, maybe other than the Jets in '98."

And that's where Haley starts in on the qualifiers.

The running game wasn't consistent enough last year. The Steelers came away from too many trips inside the "fringe" (the opponent's 35-yard line) without points. Too often, inside the red zone, Pittsburgh settled for field goals rather than touchdowns.

All of that might be true. But it doesn't take away from what's here. Even with all the young exciting young talent on the roster, that starts with the 33-year-old quarterback, with whom Haley now goes fishing and golfing.

The coordinator says the difference is "night and day" from 2012, when Roethlisberger wasn't all that happy that Arians had been jettisoned.

"When you get two adults thrown together that have never known each other, there's always gonna be a level of uncomfortable-ness -- I don't know if that's a word," Haley said. "There's a level of unknown that you gotta grow through, and we've done that. It's just a natural process of knowing each other to the point where a coordinator and quarterback have to be. I feel like I know what he's thinking, and he kinda feels like he knows what I'm thinking.

"And when you're there, you've got a chance to do good things."

At the end of the day on Sunday, Haley started pointing out things around the Saint Vincent campus he remembers from being a kid in the 1970s, when his dad was the Steelers' personnel chief. He showed Dri Archer where he used to run around after practice, the same field he coaches on now. He explained that the dorms the players stay in weren't there then. He even conjures a memory of an old root-beer tap in the coaches' office.

So when Haley -- who was the Chiefs' head man from 2009 to 2011 -- is asked about being a head coach again, he answers like this: "I think about trying to be the best coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and trying to get another one of those trophies in that case. That's really what it's all about. I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying being a Steeler."

Based on the results, it's fair to say they're OK having him around, too.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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