NFL from the Sidelines

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O-R Sports reporter Dale Lolley gets you the insider scoop on the NFL.

After hobnobbing around the NFL in the press boxes and sidelines, sports reporter Dale Lolley will let you know the insider scoop. Dale can also be heard on the Steelers radio network pre-game show prior to every game. Follow him on Twitter at dlolleyor.

Sifting through Art Rooney’s words

January 31, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger warms up before the AFC championship NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Art Rooney’s words weren’t hard to decipher. He wants both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh for the long term.

You wouldn’t think that would be an issue, but you also wouldn’t think Ben Roethlisberger, the team’s star quarterback, would be sending messages through the media.

And that is what Roethlisberger has been doing in recent days.

First, it was his talk of retirement on the heels of the team’s 36-17 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

Rooney said he has since spoken with Roethlisberger and expects him to play in 2017, not that anyone was buying the retirement talk to begin with.

Then, it was Roethlisberger, through his personal mouthpiece, taking shots at Brown, suggesting that Brown ran the wrong routes on purpose to sabotage the team.

Please.

Might there be times when Brown runs the wrong route? Sure. He probably does it just like every other receiver in the game.

Might there also be times when Roethlisberger calls the wrong play? Absolutely.

So why would Roethlisberger take such a shot at his star receiver? Because he doesn’t want to address it with Brown directly. But he wanted to fire a shot across the bow of Brown in an attempt to get him more sharp.

That’s fine. But questioning a teammate’s desire to win is a tough line to walk.

And it’s apparent that Rooney isn’t buying it.

As he said, “Antonio is a good person. He’s an intense competitor. He’s a highly conditioned athlete. He works as hard as probably anybody I’ve ever seen. He wants to be a successful football player. Given all of that, he’ll keep things in perspective. It’s a crazy world out there. I don’t pretend to even understand social media and what the players’ attitudes are toward that. Even with my own kids, it’s a different world. I try to keep an open mind about it. But there have to be some rules.”

The Steelers will attempt to sign Brown to a contract extension. Period.

@ Same goes for Le’Veon Bell.

Rooney said he feels Bell’s issues with suspensions are behind him and he wants to keep the running back in Pittsburgh past this season.

That could mean a franchise tag for Bell but it also could mean a contract extension. The Steelers don’t harbor any questions about Bell as a person.

“I would say overall, we have a lot of confidence in Le’Veon and think he has a bright future, so obviously we don’t expect he’s going to continue to have suspensions,” Rooney said. “We hope that’s in the past. I feel like that is. I feel like he understands what he needs to do to be a successful player in this league for the long term. I’m confident he’s going to be a player we can count on in the future.”

@ As for Martavis Bryant, Rooney is rightfully cautious in his assessment of the troubled receiver’s future.

When a player has been suspended twice in three years for multiple failed drug tests, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get out of him.

But the Steelers will play things by ear if/when Bryant is reinstated by the NFL.

“Once he gets through that process, we’ll have an ability to have more contact with him and hopefully get him in here and see where he is physically and mentally,” Rooney said. “There’s a ways to go down that road before we know where we are. But he’s somebody that has great potential and hopefully he can get back on the right track and hopefully come here and realize some of that potential.”

Under league rules - which are silly - a suspended player and the team aren’t permitted to have contact. It seems a little counterproductive, but rules are rules. And that’s the rule.

So the Steelers really don’t know what they’re going to be getting in Bryant if he’s able to return.

@ Rooney did say that the Steelers need to start looking at potential replacements for Roethlisberger. We can assume that starts with the draft.

But this is a terrible year for quarterbacks in the draft, so it’s unlikely the Steelers will find a future replacement for their franchise QB, especially picking 30th in the first round.

Rooney did say he felt the Steelers were a little thin at quarterback this season, suggesting that he wasn’t happy with Landry Jones as the backup.

Jones is an unrestricted free agent this year and the belief is that head coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert want him back.

But let’s be honest, there aren’t future NFL starters on the free agent market, either, unless you like the Brian Hoyers and Blaine Gabberts of the world.

The Steelers will likely take a shot at a quarterback in the middle rounds of this year’s draft, much like they did with Jones a few years ago.

By the way, Jones’ career passer rating of 82.8 is better than every quarterback in the Steelers’ top 20 in passing yards except Roethlisberger.

Yes, it’s even better than that of Terry Bradshaw, who had a career passer rating of 70.9.

The game has certainly changed, but the two quarterbacks who are closest to Jones in passer rating are Neil O’Donnell (81.8) and Charlie Batch (79.0).

@ Yes, by the way, Rooney was happy with the job Tomlin and his coaching staff did this year.

“I think Mike did a great job. Getting to the AFC Championship Game and being in the final four is a good accomplishment,” Rooney said. “We were disappointed the way the last game went but I think there were a lot of positives we can build on. Every season is its own journey and what it takes for a coach to get a team through a whole season and have a team playing at a high level at the end, that’s kind of the test. Having a team that’s improving throughout the season, those are things that you look for in terms of how a coaching staff is performing. By and large, we were getting better as the season went on, which is what you want.”

@ As for the things he wants to upgrade this season, Rooney mentioned the secondary, pass rush and red zone offense.

Sounds about right.

Bryant could certainly help the red zone offense. But the Steelers will look to add another receiver or tight end - depending on what happens with Ladarius Green - in the draft.

The best way to upgrade the pass defense could be to bring in another edge rusher. After all, James Harrison, whom Rooney said the team wants back, isn’t going to play forever. Maybe.

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