Big Ben pleased with Steelers receivers

| Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Steelers' draft generated its share of questions, ranging from how they will use linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley and tight end Matt Spaeth to how much punter Daniel Sepulveda will improve special-teams play.

One that will go unanswered is this: What would the Steelers have done if the Carolina Panthers hadn't picked wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett immediately before them in the second round?

It's a made-for-barstool-chatter question. Yet the person that would have been most impacted by the selection of Jarrett, a big, playmaking wideout from Southern Cal, probably couldn't be drawn into such a debate.

That's because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is just fine with the players the Steelers have at wide receiver.

"I feel like they've been underutilized in the past," Roethlisberger said Tuesday after a voluntary workout at the Steelers' South Side facility. "I think every receiver we have has Pro Bowl talent and potential, and I think all of them are more than capable of putting up big numbers, including the tight ends."

Early signs point to the Steelers getting more out of their passing game next season, in part by spreading out the offense and creating mismatches.

Whether they'll be able to exploit those with their wide receivers remains to be seen, since Hines Ward is the only one of the group who's been to the Pro Bowl and caught more than 50 passes in a season.

One reason why Roethlisberger should be optimistic about the wide receivers -- and perhaps why the Steelers didn't address the position until the seventh round of the draft when they took Florida's Dallas Baker -- is Santonio Holmes.

Holmes is coming off a highly productive rookie season, one which he punctuated with a four-catch, 124-yard performance in the Steelers' final game of 2006.

And Holmes, who made steady improvement last season, should only get better, since, as he said, the game has slowed down for him.

"My goal is to increase everything, at least double of what I did last year," said Holmes, the Steelers' 2006 first-round pick.

The Steelers will be ecstatic if Holmes comes close to reaching that goal after the former Ohio State star caught 49 passes for 824 yards in 2006.

He should get plenty of opportunities next season because he figures to supplant veteran Cedrick Wilson as the Steelers' starting split end.

"For now, it's looking like that, but we have to go into training camp and that's where it determines whether you win or lose your spot," Holmes said. "I know what I'm doing, and the coaches give me more opportunity to make plays on the field."

The same also can be said of Roethlisberger, even though he threw the most interceptions (23) in the NFL last season.

Next season, the Steelers will put the game in Roethlisberger's hands more than they ever have.

He will make the blocking adjustments at the line of scrimmage next season and will even get a chance to call his own plays when the Steelers use a no-huddle offense, something Roethlisberger ran adroitly at Miami (Ohio).

"I'm real excited about that, especially the no-huddle stuff," Roethlisberger said, "being able to do that and a lot more shotgun, utilizing the weapons that we have on the outside."

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