Mike Tomlin is the man that we see every week during the season every Tuesday. Really, Tomlin’s press conferences are a game to see how long Coach Tomlin can talk without really saying anything.
This week, the big man Art Rooney II was the one a the podium however, and when he talks, we’d all be wise to listen. It always surprises me how straight forward the Steelers’ owner usually is in these end of the season press conferences.
Following the 2014 season, Rooney was pretty clear that last off-season the team needed to lock up Ben Roethlisberger, improve the defense, and pointed specifically at the pass rush saying “We’ve got to get more sacks and put more pressure on the quarterback and I think in the games we were successful, we were able to do that. That’s a key piece of the puzzle that we have to look at as we build this defense going into next year.”
Obviously Big Ben got his extension. The team went out and got a pass rushing linebacker in the first round of the draft in Bud Dupree. The team also went from 33 sacks (ranking 26th in the NFL) in 2014 to 48 sacks (3rd in the NFL) in 2015. Mission accomplished.
The previous year, Rooney was optimistic with the way the team finished in 2013; winning 6 of their last 8 games. He said he would like to continue to get better offensively (and specifically mentioned Le’Veon Bell as a player that could really help this team), but said that they needed to get better defensively.
“Obviously, we want to get better. We slipped on defense in some areas this year, particularly in terms of stopping the run; we’re not anywhere near the top of the league, which is where we’ve typically been and where we want to be. There’s no doubt there’s room for improvement there.
“We gave up too many big plays, there’s room for improvement there. Whether it’s getting younger or what other strategies we might use, we want to get better there. And that will be part of what we look at as the weeks and months go by here.”
Again, when the draft rolled around it became pretty clear that everyone was on the same page. Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt were picked with their first 2 selections to get better defensively. Daniel McCullers was taken late, probably to improve against the run as Rooney mentioned. They also added Mike Mitchell, Cam Thomas, Arthur Moats, and Brice McCain in free agency.
I can go through more examples, but the point is when Art Rooney gets up there and says the team is going to work on an area, there are usually moves made that correlate.
So just what did Art say this year?
First thing that did make my ears perk up a bit, was him specifically mentioning free agency. In my research of his past press conferences, he gives almost the same exact line every time when it comes to free agency. Something along the lines of “we will look at opportunities in free agency, but I’m not sure it fits in with our plan.”
This year however, he mentioned the Steelers’ cap being a “manageable situation” and that they “may be a little better” in going after free agents. He did also add that it would “depend on what’s out there.”
He did also specifically mention that they have several guys they would like to extend this off-season. So some of that cap space will go there. Le’Veon Bell was the only player that he mentioned specifically in terms of an extension. Rooney made it clear the team will work to extend him long-term but it might not be this off-season.
He made a similar comment regarding Ben Roethlisberger 2 years ago. I think that the team will make Bell an offer that’s likely well below his market value, and let him take it or (what’s more likely) leave it and they will talk again next off-season.
The biggest takeaway from Art’s talk though, was the pass defense has to get better.
“If you look at us statistically, we weren’t where we’d like to be in terms of pass defense, and so that’s an area we know we want to improve upon,” said Rooney. “We certainly made progress on defense. We got better as the year went on, but we all agree we need to be better in general as a pass defense.
This to me is the most direct comment he made in the entire interview. There will be new faces in the Steelers’ secondary next season.
I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty adamant about saying don’t expect a first round cornerback, but after hearing that I’m not as convinced. They could look at the safety position as well.
Regardless, you can bet that the Steelers will focus heavily on pass defense this off-season.