Ben Roethlisberger has been busy lately and it has nothing to do with negotiations for a contract extension or playing in his first Pro Bowl. He's been busy denying, denying, denying that he was even serious when he said one of his offseason wishes was for the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire a tall wide receiver.
His top three receivers are Hines Ward, listed as 6-0, 5-11 Santonio Holmes and 6-1 Nate Washington.
"I'm always going to ask for a tall receiver," Roethlisberger said last month. "That's just me. Our receivers are unbelievable, but our tallest guy might be Hines? Or Santonio? Hines is going to say he's 6 foot but he's 5-11, now."
Roethlisberger never disputed saying those words until Ward responded angrily a week later.
"We won a Super Bowl, we didn't have a tall receiver then," Ward said sharply. "I don't see Tom Brady caring about who's tall or not. He got Randy (Moss) this year, but he did it before without him."
Big Ben became Backtrack Ben after Ward's reaction. He called Ward and said he told him it was blown out of proportion and he was not quoted correctly. It started a huge debate in Pittsburgh over who was right and/or wrong - Ben for saying it, or Ward for the way he reacted.
"If Ben wants a tall receiver to make him feel comfortable or whatever, maybe the organization will get him one," Ward said.
"To me, I like the four guys we have. This is Ben's first year with (coordinator) Bruce Arians and he had a tremendous year, a Pro Bowl year. I think he's coming into his own. We have weapons, let's jell together a couple more years and let's see what happens. If they go and get a tall receiver in the first round, someone's got to lose a job. Now we had all these weapons around us, now what are we going to do?"
The bottom line: The Steelers believe they need to draft a quality wide receiver in April and would consider it on the first round. A tall one would be preferable.
The Steelers have six draft choices, one in each of the first six rounds. They traded their seventh-rounder last year to Atlanta for return man Allen Rossum. They do not expect to pick up any compensatory picks because they did not lose anyone in free agency last season and signed starting center Sean Mahan.
After much controversy last season over poor conditions at Heinz Field, the Steelers decided to stick with grass for at least one more year.
"The majority of the people in this organization favor grass," team president Art Rooney II said.
Rooney cited his players' preferences to play on grass rather than any kind of artificial turf, even though their union head, Gene Upshaw, lobbied the Steelers to install the fake stuff.
Don't expect the Steelers to make much of a pitch to keep guard Alan Faneca. They know they can't go as high as he wants at this point, and knew this would happen last August.
"We haven't closed the door," Kevin Colbert, director of football operations, said. But ... "Again, we know once you get to free agency or are that close to free agency, obviously you're going to have competition. The price most likely has gone up."
Hines Ward, who turns 32 in March, believes he can keep playing well into his 30s.
"I have three, four good years left, I would like to think," Ward said.
Quote To Note: "I don't buy into the hype you have to be tall. You throw the ball up and give somebody a chance to make a play, I'll make as many catches as anyone." - WR Hines Ward, reacting to Ben Roethlisberger's desire for a tall receiver.
Strategy And Personnel
Coach Mike Tomlin wants to get some younger players, particularly in his defensive line where starters Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith are over 30 and Brett Keisel is approaching it.
Under pressure to make some changes, Tomlin kept his entire first coaching staff intact for 2008.
The Steelers signed former Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky, who will get a chance to replace Brian St. Pierre as No. 3. St. Pierre, a UFA, is expected to sign elsewhere.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
There are few pressing decisions to be made regarding their own unrestricted free agents because the Steelers do not expect to try to keep guard Alan Faneca, tackle Max Starks, linebacker Clark Haggans nor fullback Dan Kreider -all starters or former starters.
Their more interesting moves will come with their restricted free agents, including guard Chris Kemoeatu, No. 3 receiver Nate Washington and backup tackle Trai Essex. Kemoeatu is expected to replace Faneca as the starter and Essex is their only backup tackle with experience after Starks.
1. Offensive line: The performance of the line slipped for the second straight year and now they will lose perennial Pro Bowler Alan Faneca and Max Starks, who started in 2005 and 2006 at right tackle. This, after Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings retired a year ago and left a large hole at that position.
2. Defensive line: For years, it has been a strength, but the front three are aging and the depth is not good at the ends. Could use a "three-technique" end, but won't overlook a true nose tackle.
3. Wide receiver: Hines Ward is still going strong but at 32 they'll look to groom someone. They'd like either a tall receiver or a fast one who also can return punts and/or kickoffs.
Medical Watch: When it comes to injury information, the Steelers have rarely been forthcoming in the offseason. RB Willie Parker (broken fibula), SS Troy Polamalu (sprained knee) and WR Hines Ward (sprained knee, surgery) all are working out and expected to make full recoveries. Others who have had surgeries since the season ended and are expected to be at full health soon are LB Marquis Cooper (meniscus), OT Trai Essex (right ankle, cartilage), LB Andre Frazier (sports hernia) and G Kendall Simmons (right fourth finger). FB Dan Kreider is recovering from ACL surgery in late November.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
LB Marquis Cooper is a special teams player and possible developmental linebacker. Not a priority.
DE Nick Eason could not do the job when Aaron Smith was injured and is not likely to see an offer from Pittsburgh.
G Alan Faneca received the Steelers' last, best offer in August and turned it down. He'll sign elsewhere.
LB Clark Haggans performed decently but did not bring enough pressure. The Steelers will promote No. 2 pick from last year, LaMarr Woodley and let Haggans go.
RB Verron Haynes was re-signed late in the season after Willie Parker was hurt but likely won't receive another offer from Pittsburgh.
DE Travis Kirschke has done a decent job as a backup but is not a priority, or possibly even a consideration, in free agency for them.
FB Dan Kreider's role was diminished last year and then his ACL was torn. He's working out and the Steelers might sign him if he gets no looks elsewhere.
QB Brian St. Pierre wants to move up somewhere from his No. 3 role with the Steelers and they will let him do so without an offer.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
OT Trai Essex performed well when he had to fill in late in the season and he should get a lower tender (he was a third-round draft choice).
LB Andre Frazier is a good special teams player and backup on the outside, but they may not want to tender him even the lowest amount.
G Chris Kemoeatu is ticketed to replace Alan Faneca, so he will receive at least the first-round tender.
LS Greg Warren is not worth the nearly $1 million they would have to pay to maintain their rights to him.
WR Nate Washington also should receive at least the tender that would bring a second-round pick should he leave.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
LB Arnold Harrison will receive a contract because he's a good, young backup at a position that is thin and he also plays special teams.
Nothing really new out of STEELER camp, but wanted to put it out anyhow