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Much has changed for Steelers during offseason

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers first-round pick Ryan Shazier goes through drills during rookie camp May 16, 2014, on the South Side.

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By Alan Robinson
Friday, June 20, 2014, 2:57 p.m.
 

They've gotten younger and faster. In about a month, the Steelers will learn if they've gotten better.

They've gone through top-to-bottom player evaluations that followed a second successive 8-8 record, a roster makeover in which some longtime fixtures departed and eight free agents arrived. They went through a draft that added nine more players, a rookie minicamp and four weeks of practices.

These are extensive changes by Steelers standards, and it's largely because of two sub-standard seasons. They'll get a better idea of who will be staying and who will be going, who can be counted upon and who can't, who will be starting and who won't when training camp starts July 25 in Latrobe.

For now, here's what's different about the Steelers, and no, it's not just that 14 players who were on their 53-man roster at the end of last season aren't around.

Warren Sapp won't call this defense old and slow.

Ben Roethlisberger noticed it as soon as he began running plays: This might be the quickest Steelers defense he has seen, and it's not just because of new linebacker Ryan Shazier and safety Mike Mitchell.

“It may not have a lot of names people know, but they're flying around and it's fun to watch,” Roethlisberger said.

Dick LeBeau's take?

“You can never have enough speed,” he said.

Ike Taylor's observation? “Super duper fast.”

The no-huddle is close to becoming a base offense.

Roethlisberger is so confident and comfortable running the no-huddle that it's now part of almost everything the Steelers do. New receiver Lance Moore said he believes they'll use it extensively.

“We are gearing ourselves up to go no-huddle at any time,” receivers coach Richard Mann said.

Being versatile isn't just an asset, it's a necessity.

More players on both sides of the ball are being asked to do more. Dri Archer is in the running backs' room one day, the wide receivers' room the next. Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount possess contrasting styles, yet they're almost interchangeable. Blount is catching passes; Bell is being used in goal-line situations.

Shazier and Arthur Moats can play outside or inside linebacker, the kind of versatility the Steelers lacked when Larry Foote went down for the season in Week 1 last year. Moore can line up in the slot or outside. Wesley Johnson can play every offensive line position. Cam Thomas can play defensive end or nose tackle. And the list goes on.

There's no wide receiver starter opposite Antonio Brown yet. Or is there?

This might be the most-watched competition during camp, with no designated starter.

Moore got more reps as spring practices progressed. Markus Wheaton could emerge, but the spring surprise was 2013 sixth-round pick Justin Brown, who didn't make the team last season. Martavis Bryant, the fourth-round pick, seems more likely to be employed in situational roles. But offensive coordinator Todd Haley said former Raiders and Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey — a former first-round pick — will get a look, too.

“I think competition is a great thing. It brings out the best in everybody. I don't think we are in any hurry to make some of those decisions,” Haley said. “We want to let it play out.”

Cam Heyward could be the next Steelers defensive star.

Coming off his five-sack season, Heyward is playing Brett Keisel's former stand-up defensive end role in the base defense. He's also being used in a multitude of ways in the sub packages the Steelers play more than 60 percent of the time.

The Steelers are doing a lot with Heyward because they believe he can deliver.

The offensive linemen might not be working harder under Mike Munchak, but it looks like it.

“We're not inventing the wheel,” Munchak said. “We're doing a lot of the things that they've done before, just maybe drilling it a different way.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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