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Day after thoughts: Art Rooney’s interview on the Steelers

Steelers President, Art Rooney II held a very informative 30 minute interview session on Tuesday. He covered a variety of topics pertaining to the Steelers and the direction they’ll be headed in for offseason at hand and the 2012 season ahead. I’ve put together some thoughts on the key points Mr. Rooney spoke of.

“It’s not a situation where we’re looking to tear things apart and start over,” Rooney said today in a wide-ranging interview. “I think there are a lot of pieces in place.”  –  Mr. Rooney is spot on here, the team is not in need of a total rebuild, tearing apart the very foundation they’ve built over the years. There is a lot of young talent in the prime of their NFL careers on the squad, it’s just a matter of making the tough decisions with older veterans and of course the salary cap. This will be the most important Steelers offseason in long time as we could see a significant changing of the guard at key positions that have been occupied by familiar faces for so long.

In reference to Hines Ward: “He’s one of the all-time Steelers,” Rooney said, “Hopefully he’ll be a Hall of Famer. You want it end the right way when it ends.”  He gave no indication or promise that Ward they will bring back Hines for the new season, or even restructure his current deal.  Of course, if Hines is going to return it will be in a similar role as he had this year, and at a much lower salary of the 4 million he’s due to earn in 2012. This is a tough call for such a great player, but with the salary cap situation being what it is,  20-25 million over as of now, Ward could be a casualty of these circumstances. The young group of receivers have hit the ground running and the future is bright at this position whether Hines returns or not. Personally I’d love to see Ward retire as a Steeler, but we’ll wait and see.

Signing wide receiver Mike Wallace to a long-term contract will be one of the Steelers’ top priorities this offseason.  Mr. Rooney knows that what the team has in Wallace, Brown, and Sanders right now so it’s good to see them publicly talking about making him a top priority. Wallace is entering the final year of his original contract and by NFL standards he’s certainly given the team back what they put into him and then some. Keeping these 3 together will go a long way towards the future of the Steelers passing game.  They know they need to get him signed to an extension this offseason because if he hits the open market in 2013 the price for his services will sky rocket.

The Steelers need to become more consistent on offense and that they need to take less sacks. This one is definitely a no brainer, sooner or later Ben Roethlisberger has got to stop taking such a beating. He was sacked 42 times in the regular season in 2011. So far in his career he’s been sacked 314 times, the high (or low point depending on how you look at it) was in 2009 when he was sacked 50 times. If the Steelers want to keep Ben around for another 5 years they have to find a way to keep him upright. That means fixing the offensive line with more consistent depth and key additions at Guard and possibly LT (if Starks can’t return from the ACL injury). It’s also on Ben to get rid of the ball quicker to avoid the pressure; not something he likes to talk about much less do.

The Steelers will add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field after the 2012 season. They will be in the open end zone, where the temporary seats were installed for the Penguins’ Winter Classic. This is great news for the fans that attend Heinz Field if you ask me. The current capacity for the Steelers stadium is at 65,050 seats so adding a few more thousand to the mix in the open end zone side will help everyone in trying to get tickets which generally sell out within hours of being released. While I do like the open end of the stadium as it is now, having more terrible towels and screaming Steelers faithful on gameday is always a plus.

He called the Steelers’ 29-23 loss on the first play of overtime in the wildcard playoff game at Denver “the worst ending to a playoff game” he has experienced. He said, however, that injuries were not to blame. Far be it from any of us to question the great Art Rooney II, afterall he knows his team better than anyone. While injuries weren’t completely to blame, I still say and will keep saying that they played a part in the season and that wildcard loss. Coaches will never admit that injuries hurt them or cost them a game, that would be passing the buck and the Steelers aren’t in the business of doing that.  However you simply can’t have that many players go down on the interior lines, a beaten up Quarterback, and a less than healthy Linebacking corp and expect to win in the playoffs. Yes I know the Packers did it last year, but that goes to show that the Steelers need to up the ante with their depth to remain competitive. Ultimately the gameplan was bad, the defense didn’t execute, the time management was questionable, and things just fell a part.

He said he expects his father, Dan, to step down after serving one term as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.  The ever quiet, but formidable Steelers owner, Dan Rooney is coming back to the team.  He is without a doubt one of the most respected team owners in all of sports. When he speaks, everybody listens. While I’m sure Mr. Rooney enjoyed his time as the Ambassador to Ireland, you have to feel that his heart is with the Steelers. It’s unclear as to how much of a hands on roll he’ll take on when he returns, but nevertheless it will be good to see him back in Pittsburgh on a regular basis. 
The team will take a wait-and-see approach regarding Mendenhall in order to properly gauge how he responds to reconstructive knee surgeryThis is the right way to go about it, no question. Mendenhall’s injury happening at the end of the season means he’ll be spending the majority of the off season in rehab. Once OTA’s start and mini camps begin, he’ll be just getting back to the point of being able to jog lightly but nowhere near ready to take on a regular practice regime. Isaac Redman showed in the wildcard game against Denver that he can carry the load against a good run defense. He also continued to be productive in short yardage situations throughout the year.  Along with Redman, the Steelers have a stable of backs who will be fighting for roster spots, so they can afford to step back and wait to see how Mendenhall recovers before giving him more money.
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