The Pittsburgh Steelers are in their final week of training camp ahead of the 2015 NFL season. After a 2014 season that saw receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell excel and set the bar as members of an explosive offense, the duo are looking forward to the potential they see in their teammates. After setting records and exceeding many expectations, including a playoff run, Brown and Bell see room for improvement as well. On Monday, both players shared their outlook for another outstanding season.
Brown had 129 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. His numbers put him squarely in the top five of all NFL receivers, but he has consistently told the media at camp that there is always room for improvement. Brown said that despite an already powerful offensive performance last season, the tempo at which his Steelers teammates are playing on offense has ramped up. “Guys are getting line up fast,” Brown said. “If we can [continue to] do that, we can play extremely fast and make it tough on defenses.”
One way the pace has helped has been in overall efficiency for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line. Roethlisberger had upped his cadence, counting on communication along the offensive line to get the ball snapped and release receiver and running backs before opposing defenses can get set or into a rhythm. “I think we are doing some positive things as far as getting lined up and knowing what to do,” Brown added. Brown pointed out that with a cohesive line, his teammates blocking up front have been able to get off the ball quicker and open lanes for both the receivers and backs. “Those guys just continue to get better,” Brown said of the line. “Those guys have been doing a great job of opening holes and providing lanes…giving (Roethlisberger) more time.”
Overall, Brown sees that the offense has moved past mental errors and miscommunication. He credits the success with the offensive unit having a true understanding of what their assignments are and being on the same page.
Bell sees the depth the Steelers have in the offensive backfield as a benefit this year. Although he will be serving a two-game suspension, he has expressed little concern that his teammates will be able to carry the load that would normally be place on his shoulders. Bell sees nine-year veteran DeAngelo Williams as an asset and said, “He is a veteran guy who is going to go out there and work and compete.” Thus far, Williams has been exciting to watch on both the practice and playing fields.
Dri Archer, the speedy second-year back/receiver that was drafted in 2014 has been looking for an opportunity to contribute more this season and Bell feels confident Archer is ready to go to the next level. “He is getting more comfortable,” Bell said. “He is out there not thinking too much. He is going to be playing. I am excited for him. He can be a huge weapon.” One thing Bell credits Archer for is his speed, something he says is impossible to coach into an athlete. One thing the Steelers would like to see from Archer is the ability as a small back to find open running room so that he can showcase his quick feet. Bell has no doubt that other teams will have to respect his teammate anytime he is in a game because his threat level to break a long run is high.
Josh Harris entered training camp after spending the 2014 season on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent, but suffered an injury. He continues to work his way back into shape to return and Bell admires the way Harris has been able to get out of his head and play ball. “(Harris) is confident in himself. He is an explosive guy. He is extremely fast. He is a guy who can bring it in the open field and make some plays happen.”
As both Brown and Bell help prepare their teammates, especially rookies and new faces hoping to make the final roster, they continue to improve their own skills. Bell came into camp looking like he’d spent months doing nothing but abdominal workouts, adding muscle weight that should equate to being able to have the stamina to play for a full 60 minutes if necessary. Brown has shown a ton of finesse and leadership at receiver in what has proven to be one of the deepest squads at camp for the Steelers this year.
The first time these two players stepped into a preseason game this year was in Jacksonville. They helped showcase how well the offense has gelled and moved to the next level. After orchestrating an 80-yard drive of six plays that resulted in a touchdown and successful two-point conversion, eyes were opened about how explosive the Steelers may be in 2015. Bell feels the only way Pittsburgh will stumble is if they hurt themselves. “If we make mistakes and have penalties, that’s the only way we’ll be stopped,” Bell said. “We have way too many play-makers on the field…As long as we execute the way we can, I don’t feel like opposing defenses can do anything about stopping us.”