Core intact, optimistic Steelers ready for next step
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) Antonio Brown didn't miss so much as a meeting.
The Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver could have disrupted training camp by staying home for a couple days in search of a raise. By league standards he's one of the biggest bargains in the NFL after leading the league in receptions, yards receiving and inventive touchdown celebrations.
Only he didn't. Last Brown checked, the $6 million base salary he will receive this fall is still a lot of money. This is a man, after all, who arrived at Saint Vincent College on Saturday in a customized $500,000 Rolls Royce Phantom, with his brother Desmond playing the role of driver.
The speculation Brown would act out if the team failed to rework the remaining three years on his deal turned out to be just that. The heavily regimented Brown instead was a fixture during the team's offseason workout program.
Call it the byproduct of a sense of place and a little bit of history. Holdouts never end well, particularly if you play for the Steelers. And at 27, Brown understands there is time to get rewarded if he continues to do his job as well as anyone in the league.
''I'm in a blessed position,'' Brown said. ''I make a lot of money. I pull up to camp in Rolls Royces. I'm just excited.''
For the present and the future.
The Steelers spent the spring following an impressive 11-5 season locking down the core they believe will propel them to a seventh Lombardi Trophy. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a five-year deal worth around $100 million.
Defensive end Cam Heyward is locked up for the rest of the decade after agreeing to a six-year contract shortly before camp opened. Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert will be around through at least 2018.
Stability isn't an issue in Pittsburgh. It hardly ever is, even following an eventful few months in which defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and defensive end Brett Keisel either left, retired or weren't asked back.
That sense of security allows the franchise to focus on other things. Namely trying to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2011 AFC championship. Here's a look at the biggest issues facing the Steelers before the Sept. 10 opener in New England.
WILL BELL TOIL?: RB Le'Veon Bell will sit out the first two games as part of the fallout from DUI and drug charges last summer. Veteran DeAngelo Williams, the all-time leading rusher in Carolina Panthers history, will fill in. The 32-year-old Williams was limited to six games in 2014 due to injury.
IN A RUSH: Pittsburgh drafted Kentucky's Bud Dupree in the first round to help a pass rush that struggled to generate any sort of consistent presence in opposing backfields. New defensive coordinator Keith Butler will tinker a bit with LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, including new packages designed to free up Dupree, Jarvis Jones and seemingly ageless James Harrison.
CORTEZ'S MOMENT: The Steelers gave CB Cortez Allen a five-year extension last summer and tasked him with becoming the shutdown cornerback the team needed. Instead Allen struggled with his confidence and his technique before ending the season on injured reserve. While they drafted Senquez Golson and Doran Grant to give the secondary some depth, Allen's ability to return to his 2013 form will be critical.
BOUNTIFUL BRYANT: Pittsburgh ended 2014 with an 8-2 surge that coincided with the development of rookie WR Martavis Bryant. The 6-foot-4 Bryant caught eight touchdowns and averaged 21.1 yards per reception. He added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason to help get off the line of scrimmage when defensive backs go into press coverage. Bryant spent most of the year in the slot, but could be used on the outside more in 2015.
HOLD THAT LINE: Tomlin will sometimes try to motivate his team's defensive line by shouting ''6.0!'' at them during practices, a dig at the 4.4 yards per carry (25th in the league) the Steelers gave up a year ago. Butler has hinted at trying to let an athletic group that includes letting Heyward and second-year end Stephon Tuitt have more freedom to go get the ball rather than eat up blocks. It's an idea Heyward is all for. ''Once you get the one on ones, it's what you do with them that matters,'' he said.
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