The Steelers' three-day minicamp concluded Sunday afternoon. Those expecting defensive changes were disappointed, but it was a big weekend for devotees of the spread offense.
PITTSBURGH – There weren’t any mad blitzes from linebacker Brett Keisel, nor did the line spread out to include Chris Hoke as the under-tackle in a 4-3.
Was there any 4-3 at all this minicamp weekend?
“I haven’t seen it,” said Hoke. And he would know.
“We’re running all our base stuff,” he said. “Everything’s just been an addition to our 3-4.”
The defense has remained the same in new Coach Mike Tomlin’s first minicamp. But the offense, now that was a different animal.
The offense was spread out: Sometimes five were wide, sometimes two tight ends flexed out to joined two receivers.
One time – and historians labeled it the first three-tight-end pass set in team history – Jon Dekker, Cody Boyd and Jerame Tuman all shifted and ran into each other before coming set into a bunch right formation.
Quarterback was sacked on the play.
It was a brave new world for the Steelers, who appear to be shifting from a physical offense to a finesse offense.
But didn’t Tomlin once say he believed in football by attrition?
“All spread football does is pre-determine a box count,” Tomlin said at the conclusion of minicamp. “Whether you’re going nine-on-nine with two tight ends on the field and are pounding the ball in there, or whether you spread it out and you go five-on-six, it really doesn’t matter. It’s the nature of how your line comes off the ball and how your backs finish.
“Just because you spread the field doesn’t determine what kind of offense you are. It’s just the nature with which you play the game.”
That should come as a relief to fans who’ve grown to appreciate the Steelers and their climate-guided mission statement of physical and conservative football. Here’s how the key players viewed the offense this weekend:
Ben Roethlisberger: “It’s utilizing the weapons that we have. We’ve got so many very good weapons on the outside, at running back, and at tight end, so I think this offense is helping us utilize every part of it.”
Hines Ward: “It’s really going to take a lot of pressure off myself and the other guys now that we are utilizing our tight ends.”
Heath Miller: “We’re just taking a look right now at multiple formations, multiple sets, maybe add a little variety to what we do. If you can do that one, or two, or three times a game then it gives the defense a little something more to think about.”
Is that what it’s about? Two or three times a game?
“Who knows?” said Miller, the quiet intellectual. “Right now, if (offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) wants to use more tight ends, it’s our job to go out and prove that it’s going to work.”
When the tight ends weren’t running into each other, they showed good athleticism and soft hands. Miller, of course, is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player. Rookie third-round pick Matt Spaeth is 6-foot-7 with soft hands and a scratch-and-claw mentality on the line. Boyd, an undrafted free agent, is also 6-7 and showed good hands and agility and could become a training-camp sleeper. That would hurt the chances of last year’s undrafted rookie, Dekker, who’s bulked up and shown a greater confidence and understanding.
Are the linebackers having trouble handling this attack of the tight ends?
“Nah, not our linebackers,” said linebacker Larry Foote. “Maybe the opponents will, but not us in here.”
“I think it’s more of a Denver-style offense,” explained safety Troy Polamalu. “They’re using that kind of slashing-type mentality, working everything off play-action as we have been doing. I think Willie’s a very good running back and very able and very capable to run behind that kind of offensive line, so I think it’ll be very beneficial to us.”
So, what about Willie Parker? He’s the player most principals feel will benefit the most from a spread and scattered defense.
“I love it,” said Parker.
Better than the old offense?
“Better than the old offense,” he said. “I just love it.”
By Jim Wexell