Kovacevic: Steelers' offensive identity, anyone?
Dri Archer is so quick that, if the Steelers' coaches have their way, not even their phone-book-thick playbook will contain him. All summer on the South Side, the team's third-round draft pick has bounced from scatback to slot receiver to wideout, changing roles and routes seemingly with every snap.
He might even be tasked with applying every ounce of that 5-foot-8, 173-pound frame as some sort of Minibus on occasion.
“We're not going to say, ‘Listen, he's in the game, so we're going to run sweeps and scat stuff.' ” Ben Roethlisberger was explaining. “If he's going to be in the game, he's going to run between the tackles. He'll have to pick up blitzing linebackers. He'll have to put his big-boy pads on.”
But then, maybe that's the most accurate way to describe the state of the offense after all of the summer's workouts concluded Thursday with the final day of minicamp. Next time the Steelers convene will be July 25 in Latrobe, and when they do, they'll be accompanied by far more questions than answers as to how they'll move the football.
No, really, think about it: What's the foundation for this offense, the identity?
It's easy to say it's Roethlisberger. He's still the star, still the focal point. And with the intensive emphasis on no-huddle this offseason — especially this week — it'll be his show, maybe more than ever. Which is as it should be. He's earned that license.
But how will it play out?
Will they pound the ball?
That answer should be obvious, given the NFL trend, but it can't be ignored that Todd Haley didn't blink this week when asked the next logical step for his offense: “We have to run the ball better.”
He's right, in fairness. The Steelers ranked 12th in passing yards last season but tied for 27th in rushing yards with a measly 86.4 average. There's clearly more room to improve there, and the maturation of Le'Veon Bell along with the addition of LeGarrette Blount should take care of that. What's more, both men are between-the-tackles types, which could keep defenses honest against the pass.
But Haley's passion for the run — and be sure it's nothing less than that — will be misguided if taken too far. That's true here or anywhere.
“As a line, we'd love nothing more than to just blow out holes for Bell and Blount. Any linemen would,” David DeCastro was saying. “But that's not the game today.”
No, it isn't. Not singularly. The Bills were wonderful at running. Got them to 6-10.
So the Steelers will be built primarily on the pass, right?
Remains to be seen. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery were replaced at receiver by one reliable player: Lance Moore. And if it's assumed Moore will stay in the slot, where he played most recently in New Orleans, that leaves a critical void at the No. 2 wideout spot opposite Antonio Brown. Moore assured me Thursday he'd have no issue if asked to be No. 2 — “I've spent a lot of my career outside, and I know I could do it again,” he said — but that's not optimal. It would be far better if one of the others would take it, but the field of Markus Wheaton (finger trouble), Martavis Bryant (too raw) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (too many drops) isn't exactly overflowing with options.
I hate to add this, too, but it's no certainty we'll ever see the pre-knee-injury Heath Miller again.
Ideally, Kevin Colbert will sign another receiver capable of stretching the field. But don't hold your breath on that. There are no imminent signs of Santonio Holmes or anyone else riding to the rescue.
Ask me, and the Steelers should be delighted to maintain their passing rank of a year ago.
What's left, then?
Well, from five weeks out, it sure looks like Haley and Mike Tomlin are painting so many scenarios involving so many people — did I mention fullback Will Johnson as a no-huddle tight end? — in hopes that, even if they aren't great at one thing, they can trick their way to success with a variety of packages, formations, pre-snap motion, you name it.
Which is fine, obviously. The Steelers do have, as Moore put it, an offense that's “pretty versatile, solid all-around, effective at a lot of things,” and every smart football plan involves sleight of hand. But to repeat, as with launching Archer into two tons of defensive linemen, this one comes across as ambitious, even hopeful. It's prioritizing deception over dominance in any one facet. It's pushing for pristine execution. It's requiring adaptability from series to series, week to week. And yeah, it might do all that at the expense of fortifying a real strength, a real identity.
For fun, I asked Archer to label this offense in a word.
“Creative,” he replied without a split-second's hesitation. “I think we're creative.”
Told you he was quick.