Haley, Roethlisberger build trust for Steelers
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is settling in as he returns to his hometown, building a new house in Upper St. Clair. His more immediate concern is making sure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels at home in his new offense.
As evidence of that, the Steelers are devoting practice time to the no-huddle offense. Often, it's Big Ben at his I'm-in-control, dare-you-to-stop-me best.
Roethlisberger lobbied Haley's predecessor, Bruce Arians, for more no-huddle but didn't always get a “yes.” He might get a more favorable response from Haley, who, after spending three seasons trying to compensate for mediocre or worse quarterback play in Kansas City, seems to be taking delight in coaching a quarterback with Roethlisberger's playmaking ability.
“It's a quarterback league, and after 16 or 17 years of coaching, I now believe that,” Haley said Tuesday during his first extensive interview of training camp. “You need a guy who's going to be the field general, move the team up and down the field and control the huddle, handle the defense. Ben is in that group of top guys, and he's proven it from Day 1 in the NFL. ... With Ben handling the football on every snap, it makes it fun for all the coaches.”
The coordinator-coach dynamic is one of the most important on any team. If the coach and quarterback trust and respect each other, great things can happen — Tom Brady and Charlie Weis in New England are proof. But if there's distrust — a coach who doesn't believe his quarterback can adequately carry out the game plan, a quarterback who feels his coach isn't playing to his strengths – a season can be ruined.
If the first week of Steelers camp is any indication, Haley plans to give the keys to the car to Roethlisberger.
“If you have a guy who's a proven winner and knows how to move the football and get everybody in place, that's a huge asset,” Haley said. “Like everybody else, we're going to play to his strengths but at the same time give him the chance to succeed on a down-in, down-out basis.”
As for that supposed offseason decree from above that the Steelers want Roethlisberger, at age 30, to improvise less and take fewer risks — and sacks — Haley said, “I haven't had any of those talks with the organization.”
There also haven't been raised-voice chats that Haley often had with players while coaching with the Cardinals and Chiefs. He's been one of the least-animated coaches during practice, showing little emotion as he watches players implement a newly designed offense that likely will include a greater commitment to the run and plenty of high-percentage passes designed to keep Roethlisberger upright and in rhythm.
“For the most part, the offense has picked it up,” running back Isaac Redman said. “We haven't had too many mistakes to get him mad. … Those guys who are getting it probably deserve it, but I haven't seen it yet.”
Haley also said he's not allowing himself to think the offense would be better if holdout receiver Mike Wallace was in camp.
“I'm counting on him being here,” Haley said. “I've got to stay focused on who's here and developing them.”
While team president Art Rooney II emphasized during the offseason he wants the run to be a greater part of the offense — the Steelers ran 43 percent of the time last season — Haley insists he hasn't been told how to run his system.
“If you can run it when they know you're going to run it, successfully, and throw it when they know you're going to throw it, you have a chance to be real good,” he said.
And to have a happy homecoming.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.