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Tomlin: 'Appropriate changes' to follow Steelers' playoff-less season

The Pittsburgh Steelers went through an entire offseason last year with minimal changes on their roster and none on their coaching staff. Winning the Super Bowl made them hesitant to tinker with a winner.

One season later, going 9-7, losing five games in a row and missing the playoffs -- the first Super Bowl champion to do so since the Steelers themselves in 2006 -- made certain that change is inevitable.

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The Steelers' offseason alterations began Tuesday when quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson retired after three seasons, becoming the first member of coach Mike Tomlin's original 2007 staff to leave. A league source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora that Anderson, 60, will pursue other career opportunities outside of coaching.

Given the special-teams struggles this season and the philosophical differences that might exist in the organization with the offense's undeniable change of direction, there could be more changes in Pittsburgh.

Tomlin hasn't met with his coaches or team management to consider any staff changes, so reports of any moves are at best premature, La Canfora reports, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, largely responsible for abandoning the Steelers' long-standing commitment to the run to lean on a heavily pass-oriented system, was the assistant coach who was most critiqued during the season -- not only from outside the organization, but from within. Tomlin apparently wants Arians back -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, not surprisingly, is a major supporter of the coordinator -- but the Steelers' front office isn't believed to be totally in agreement with the abrupt change of direction.

The Steelers' 428 rushing attempts were the second-fewest they have had during a 16-game season except for their 394 attempts in 1991. Their 536 passing attempts were the fourth-most in team history. Big changes, indeed, for a franchise that prides itself on the run.

Tomlin isn't saying when more changes might occur. He began meeting with every player on the team Monday and will talk to all staff members after that, a process that could take most of the week.


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"I don't approach making major changes in response to our record, I like to use the term appropriate changes," Tomlin said Tuesday. "Those aren't knee-jerk reactions, those aren't quick decisions. My mentality will always be to make appropriate changes. Big changes is not something I necessarily I buy into."

The Steelers brought back all but two starters from their Super Bowl team this season, but there likely will be more changes than that next season. Among the players unsigned are safety Ryan Clark, kicker Jeff Reed, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, right tackle Willie Colon and backup running back Willie Parker, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher.

There also could be a shakeup in the secondary, where safety Tyrone Carter, cornerback Deshea Townsend and Clark might not be back.

While the late-season five-game losing streak that included losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns kept the Steelers out of the playoffs, Tomlin is more concerned about the team's 2-4 record in the AFC North. They went 6-0 last season, only to be swept by the Cincinnati Bengals while splitting with the Browns and Baltimore Ravens.

"We were 0-3 in the division during that stretch, and that's more disturbing than the 0-5," Tomlin said. "We weren't (dominant in the division), so we're watching. There's a sting that comes from being on the outside looking in."

While the Steelers managed to keep any locker-room issues from becoming public during their slide, Tomlin acknowledged there always will be players who worry first about themselves first and the team second. He wouldn't identify any, but he said the potential problem exists on every team.

"There's going to be issues and things of that nature and personal agendas and so forth. We had similar issues when we won the Lombardi," Tomlin said. "Anytime you're working with a large number of people, it's going to be tough to have a pure environment, a utopia if you will. I'm a realist that some of those things -- selfishness -- is part of putting together a football team. I didn't think they're anything uniquely different from any other team I've been involved with. I didn't think it was abnormal."

While safety Troy Polamalu's prolonged injury absences contributed to the Steelers' slide -- he missed 11 full games and most of two others -- Tomlin said it's too easy to pick out one or two injuries and blame them for a season gone wrong. Defensive end Aaron Smith also missed much of the season.

"Troy is a unique player, but Baltimore played a lot of football without (safety) Ed Reed" and made the playoffs, Tomlin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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