AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers saved almost $4 million in regard to the 2015 salary cap when they restructured right tackle Marcus Gilbert ’s contract.

Gilbert
The Steelers converted a $3.5 million roster bonus that would have been due next month and $1.15 million of Gilbert’s base salary for 2015 into a signing bonus, per ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, creating $3.724 million in cap savings for the upcoming year.

The Steelers were $1.92 million over the projected salary cap for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information, before restructuring Gilbert’s five-year, $30 million deal.

That is based on the cap rising from $133 to $140 million, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has reported that the salary cap for 2015 will be at least $140 million. The 2015 spending ceiling for teams could come in as high as $143 million, per Schefter.

The Gilbert restructuring should put the Steelers in compliance with the 2015 cap, something teams are required to do by March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.

The Steelers, however, have work in front of them as they have to create enough salary cap room to be active in free agency, which starts at March 10, the first day of the NFL’s new league year.

Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the Steelers will have a hard decision to make if the eight-time Pro Bowl safety does not opt for retirement.

The Steelers could ask Polamalu to take a pay cut or release the future Pro Football Hall of Fame safety.

Team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to play his entire career for the Steelers.
Dick LeBeau, in his farewell to Pittsburgh earlier this month, paid homage to the 2008 defense that led the Steelers to the Super Bowl title.

LeBeau, the coordinator of that esteemed defense, talked at length on a day honoring him about the key players on that unit.

Clark
And he certainly did not forget about Ryan Clark, who was often overshadowed by the great players on that defense, and especially by fellow safety Troy Polamalu.

"One of the smartest men and, pound for pound, maybe one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen,” LeBeau said of Clark during a ceremony in which Pittsburgh City Council gave LeBeau a symbolic key to the city.

Steelers fans would do well to remember those words when it comes to Clark’s legacy in Pittsburgh.

As hard-hitting off the field as he was on it – and he backed down from no one -- Clark could rankle fans, reporters and maybe even some of his teammates with his nonstop chatter and outspoken nature.

He infamously referred to the Pittsburgh media as “turds” in the midst of the Steelers’ 2009 second-half collapse. Two seasons later, a Steelers media relations staffer had to separate Clark and another reporter after they nearly came to blows at training camp.

If Clark’s look-at-me ways could be grating, they were also not surprising.

Clark had to fight his way into the NFL after going undrafted in 2002 and signing with the New York Giants.

He climbed the ranks as an undersized safety and never lost his edge even after he established himself as Polamalu’s running mate on the back end of the Steelers’ defense.

Clark served an indispensable role on some great Steelers’ defenses as his familiarity with Polamalu allowed the eight-time Pro Bowl safety to play all over the field, knowing that Clark had his back.

And Clark could deliver a pop.

Willis McGahee will never forget the shot that Clark delivered at the end of the 2008 AFC Championship Game -- if the former Baltimore Ravens running back remembers it in the first place.

Clark hit McGahee so hard that fans at Heinz Field weren’t sure whether to gasp or cheer, and the ghastly collision knocked out both players.

That willingness to give up his body is Clark’s legacy, as are the strong opinions he routinely offered while not giving a hoot about whom they ticked off.

In the end, Clark did it his way.

And he did it for 13 seasons in the NFL, overcoming a life-threatening injury along the way, while staying true to himself right up until he announced his retirement.
A closer look at the areas the Pittsburgh Steelers could address in the draft. We’ll get started with a look at the tight end position, with prospects scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Tight end is the lone position on offense where the Steelers have both short-term and long-term needs. Starter Heath Miller is the only tight end on the roster who has NFL experience and is signed for 2015. And the 10th-year veteran isn’t getting any younger -- Miller will turn 33 during the 2015 season. Backups Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer are primarily blockers. Even if one or both return in 2015, the Steelers need to add youth and athleticism at tight end.

Three tight ends the Steelers could target in the draft:

Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams is intriguing as both a future successor to Miller and a player who could probably help the Steelers right away. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams arguably is the most complete tight end in the draft. He's a good blocker and also led the Golden Gophers in catches (36), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (eight) last season. Williams played just two seasons – he redshirted his first year – and the Steelers love drafting underclassmen who still have plenty of room for growth. They would probably have to take Williams at No. 22 overall -- or trade down from there and select him -- because he should be long gone by the time the Steelers pick in the second round.

Clive Walford, Miami: The 6-4, 254-pound Walford could be the second tight end drafted and might even challenge Williams for the top spot. Walford caught 44 passes last season, seven of which scored touchdowns, and he led the Hurricanes with 676 receiving yards. Walford needs some polish as a route runner, but he has a chance to be an outstanding receiver at the next level. Walford, who played just one season of high school football before going to Miami, has made strides as a blocker and has the tools to be an asset in the running game at the next level.

Jesse James, Penn State: James is a local kid, having played at South Allegheny High School, outside of Pittsburgh, before spending three seasons at Penn State. The 6-foot-7, 254-pound James has tantalizing size with a frame that can easily hold more muscle. James set Penn State’s record for most career touchdown receptions (11) by a tight end but needs to improve as a blocker. James is a bit of a project, but he has a lot of upside. He should be available later in the draft if the Steelers opt to address defense with their first couple of picks.
Emptying the notebook that still has a few nuggets from Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert’s sit-down with reporters last week …
  • Jones
    Jones
    It was hard to tell whether Colbert gave Landry Jones a vote of confidence after insisting that the third-string quarterback has made progress since the Steelers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. “I think he got better definitely from Year 1 to Year 2,” Colbert said. “He had more extended play this preseason. I thought there were signs where he did some things better than he did the year before.” Jones has yet to dress for a game in two NFL seasons and Colbert said Jones will go into the offseason practices behind starter Ben Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski. “Has he progressed to the point where he beat out Bruce as the No. 2? No,” Colbert said. “Maybe he will; maybe he won't.”
  • Colbert said this year’s draft has “a nice group of cornerbacks,” and he will get a look at them at the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday. The Steelers haven't selected a cornerback in the first round of the draft since Colbert joined the organization in 2000. But Colbert said that is not by design. “Never have we gone in [to a draft] and said we can’t take a position here in the first round.” Ricardo Colclough, a second-round pick in 2004 at No. 38 overall, is the highest Steelers draft pick for a cornerback since 2000.
  • The Steelers aren’t expecting much from the NFL’s owners meetings as far as the compensatory draft picks that will be awarded there. Compensatory picks are determined based on a complicated formula that calculates a team’s net loss or gain in free agents from the previous year. The Steelers lost a handful of free agents in 2014, including wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who became a Pro Bowl receiver in Denver. But they were also more active than usual signing free agents such as safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback Brice McCain, outside linebacker and, yes, running back LeGarrette Blount. The Steelers are hoping to get a late-round compensatory pick, at best, this year.
video
PITTSBURGH -- The biggest news to come out of general manager Kevin Colbert's sit-down with reporters Tuesday isn't that the Pittsburgh Steelers have started negotiations with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's camp on a long-term contract.

It is how confident the Steelers are that the window isn't even beginning to close on Roethlisberger, who turns 33 on March 2.

Colbert, who is hardly prone to hyperbole, compared Roethlisberger to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, a pair of all-time greats who have played at a high level well into their 30s.

That the Steelers are prepared to reward Roethlisberger as such was never really a question -- even after the organization tabled contract talks last July so it could address more immediate business.

Roethlisberger
The eight-year, $102 million contract that Roethlisberger signed in 2008 was the most lucrative in franchise history. His new deal could be right around those numbers and even exceed them.

Colbert's effusive praise of Roethlisberger is a strong indication the Steelers do not plan to lowball their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

It also makes it likely that Roethlisberger and the Steelers agree to a new deal sooner rather than later. Getting the contract done has been a fait accompli for some time, which should allow Colbert and the Steelers to tend to more pressing needs.

Colbert said at this time last year the Steelers wanted to surround Roethlisberger with as much talent as possible to maximize his remaining seasons. The Steelers have done that with their recent drafts.

Now it is time to re-build a defense that needs pass rushers and defensive backs.

An offense flush with talent at the skills positions will lead the Steelers in the foreseeable future. But for the Steelers to take the next step after winning the AFC North in 2014, they need the defense to close the gap on the offense.

Fortunately for the Steelers, they can focus on that priority without protracted contract negotiations with their franchise quarterback looming over them.

As Colbert said, when it comes to Roethlisberger's third and likely final contract with the Steelers, it remains a matter of when and not if.
Brett KeiselCourtesy of Jason RomanoBrett Keisel shaved his beard and raised more than $67,000 for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Parting ways with the thick beard that has become part of his identity is never easy for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

But he had 67,000 reasons to sport a new look Wednesday night after celebrity barbers like Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and former teammates Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton cut off one of the most visible beards in all of sports.

Keisel raised more than $67,000 for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the fifth-annual Shear Da Beard event, continuing his support of a cause that is deeply personal for the 13-year NFL veteran.

Keisel packed Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in suburban Pittsburgh for his high-profile charity event, and some Steelers fans sported impressive beards of their own as they watched Keisel lose most of his facial hair for a good cause.

The money Keisel raises from Shear Da Beard benefits Children’s Hospital’s Division of Hematology/Oncology.

Children’s Hospital is near and dear to Keisel, as Smith's son Elijah was treated there in 2008 after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Aaron Smith mentored Keisel early in Keisel's career, and the two were teammates with the Steelers from 2002 to 2011.

Keisel has raised more than $250,000 for the Division of Hematology/Oncology, according to Children’s Hospital. He also regularly visits patients at the hospital.

“Over the years, Brett has been a true champion for the kids at Children’s Hospital, and he has a special place in our hearts,” said Christopher Gessner, president of Children’s Hospital. “He’s helped raised money for our cancer research programs, helped support our Free Care Fund and brought endless smiles to our patients with his visits. His heart is bigger than his beard, and that’s saying something.”
video
The Pittsburgh Steelers were in need of a running back right before the 1996 NFL draft but coach Bill Cowher did not have his eye on a college player when he went to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and running backs coach Dick Hoak with an assignment.

Cowher asked the two to analyze game tape of a young running back named Jerome Bettis, whose production for the Rams had precipitously dropped after he burst onto the NFL scene in 1993.

"We watched about a half [of a game] and we went into Bill and said, 'Get him,' " Hoak recalled Sunday. "They just didn't use him right. They had quit using him. He started out great and for some reason he just fell out of favor. You could still see the skills that he had and we were happy to take him."

The Steelers, taking advantage of the Rams selling low after a shift in organization philosophy, pulled off one of the greatest trades in franchise history.

They packaged a second-round pick in 1996 with a fourth-rounder in 1997 and received Bettis and a 1996 third-round pick in return.

Bettis immediately became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and rushed for at least 1,000 yards in his first six seasons with the Steelers. "The Bus" embodied the physical style of play that has long been a hallmark of the Steelers, and he finally pulled into Canton, Ohio, Saturday night when Bettis got voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his fifth try.

"I don't know why he had to wait this long," Hoak said of Bettis, whose 13,662 rushing yards are still the sixth-most in NFL history. "I don't understand it. I thought he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I'm very happy for him. As well as being a player, he was a great leader. A lot of the younger players looked up to him."

Hoak spent 44 seasons with the Steelers' organization, 10 as a running back and 34 as a running backs coach. He is the only assistant in franchise history to have coached under Chuck Noll and Cowher.

Hoak, who retired after the 2006 season, said Bettis' footwork jumped out the first time he saw him at an offseason practice. That and his sheer size -- the 5-11 Bettis played at or around 260 pounds for most of his 13-year NFL career -- allowed him to become one of the greatest players in franchise history as well as the soul of the Steelers.

As punishing as Bettis was, what also stands out to Hoak about him is the kind of play he made in a game at Cincinnati. Bettis took a handoff and ran right up the middle, Hoak recalled, where a Bengals safety was waiting for him.

Bettis made the kind of jump cut that belied his size and Hoak said, "[The safety] fell flat on his face."

"A lot of people thought he was just a big, strong, run-over-people back but he had great feet, even for a 200-pounder," Hoak said. "There were plays he made that you didn't think a guy that big could make."

Yet the Steelers also relied heavily on Bettis' bulk and power late in games, which is why Hoak said he was one of the best closers of his generation.

"If we were ahead by seven to 10 points with five or six minutes to go the game was usually over," Hoak said, "because we would just put him in and he would control the football."
One was an absolute wrecking ball on defense, consistently finding his way to the football. The other was eased into his team's offense before ultimately taking it over the second half of the season, and helping it earn a postseason berth.

But only one would be named the AFC North's Rookie of the Year.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesIn his rookie season, Ravens LB C.J. Mosley registered five or more tackles in every game.
That honor went to Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who barely edged out Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. From the five-person voting panel, Mosley received 12 overall points to Hill's 11. Mosley also had three first-place votes to the two that went to Hill.

Out of the pair, Hill is the only one up for the NFL's Rookie of the Year award that will be announced this weekend in Arizona. He's the only AFC North representative, contending with a group made up of all offensive players. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Mike Evans and receiver Sammy Watkins also are up for the honor. No defensive player has earned the award since 2010, when Ndamukong Suh received it.

Mosley was seemingly everywhere for the Ravens this season. He had 129 tackles, the eighth-highest total for any defender in the league. He also was part of a defense that ranked eighth in the league.

In addition to the 129 tackles, Mosley also had three sacks, two interceptions and forced and recovered a fumble. The Alabama product also had 19 tackles in the Ravens' two playoff games, including 10 in the divisional-round loss to the Patriots. In a Week 5 loss at Indianapolis, he had a season-high 14 stops.

Hill became a threat for the Bengals starting in Week 9 when he rushed for a season-high 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-23 win against the Jaguars. It was his 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped ice the win, and firmly put him in his fan base's consciousness. That week, and for the two after it, Hill started in place of Giovani Bernard. The third-year running back was resting after experiencing a series of injuries following hard hits in previous games.

Also during Bernard's absence, Hill rushed for 152 yards in a homecoming game at New Orleans. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native and LSU product went on to become the Bengals' top option at running back after Bernard returned. Across the final nine weeks of the season, Hill rushed for 929 yards, more than any other back in that stretch.

In addition to their Rookie of the Year award, ESPN.com's AFC North reporters voted on four other honors for the division (Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player). We've been handing out the awards daily since Monday.

Mosley finished third in the division Defensive Player of the Year voting, and Hill finished third in Offensive Player of the Year voting.

AFC North Rookie of the Year: Mosley, 12 points; Hill, 11; Joel Bitonio, 8, Cleveland; Martavis Bryant, 1, Pittsburgh.

Panel of voters: Scott Brown, Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made one of their best draft picks in franchise history in 2004 with the 11th overall pick when they selected a big, talented quarterback by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.

Might the Steelers’ need to upgrade at cornerback lead them back to Miami of Ohio?

There might not be a more intriguing prospect in the 2015 draft than Quinten Rollins, who starred four seasons for the Red Hawks and then started playing football at Miami.

In basketball, Rollins started four seasons as a point guard and finished second in school history in steals (214) and fourth in assists (391). With a year of eligibility remaining to play another sport, Rollins moved over to the football team.

And all the 6-foot, 203-pound Rollins did was intercept seven passes, third-most among FBS players, and win Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. He opened eyes at the Senior Bowl last week with a diving interception in the all-star game that is a showcase for NFL prospects.

ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson is a fan of Rollins and said the latter could move into the first round of the draft if he performs well in the pre-draft process.

The key, Williamson said, is Rollins running well at the NFL Scouting Combine next month, as the biggest question about him is his straight-line speed. But Williamson, a former NFL scout, loves Rollins’ quickness, athleticism and size and said he is physical enough to play free safety at the next level.

What intrigues Williamson most about Rollins is his upside, and he will be among those jockeying for position behind Michigan State’s Trae Waynes and Florida State’s P.J. Williams, who are widely considered the top two cornerbacks in the draft.

“There were times at the Senior Bowl when people ran by him, but part of that’s recognition, too, and not learning about double moves and things like that yet,” Williamson said of Rollins. “But he goes up and plays the ball really well, like you would think a basketball player would.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel criticized the New England Patriots' approach on Friday and did not just reserve his scorn for the AFC champions.

Keisel also took aim at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the controversy that has raised new questions about the lengths to which the Patriots will go to win.

Keisel
Keisel
"It's a damn shame what's going on right now in the league," Keisel said on WDVE Radio in Pittsburgh. "To me the one place you look is Goodell."

Goodell and the league have to sort through reports that most of the footballs supplied by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday were not inflated to NFL standards. The Patriots thumped the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but the shine from that victory quickly faded when New England came under scrutiny for what has been dubbed "Deflate-gate."

Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady each denied they had anything to do with what happened last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and that the air pressure level in footballs would not have mushroomed into a national story if it was an isolated incident.

But in 2007, the Patriots were fined heavily and stripped of a first-round draft pick after Goodell ruled the team had illegally videotaped opponents.

"They are looking to win at all costs," Keisel said of the Patriots. "That's why they've been to the Super Bowl six times. There are rules and you're supposed to follow the rules, but sometimes the rules don't get followed and it's a shame."

Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this week that taking air out of footballs would not rise to the level of a major rules breach.

When asked if the NFL has to take a hard line if the Patriots tried to gain an advantage because of past transgressions, he said, "I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules, and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."
video
PITTSBURGH -- What had been inevitable when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dick LeBeau parted ways became official Tuesday when the organization promoted longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator.

Good for Butler, who has patiently waited for his chance to run a defense.

And probably good for the Steelers, who get continuity with Butler as well as someone who brings his own ideas on how to run Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

The challenge facing Butler, who turned down a handful of opportunities to interview for other defensive coordinator jobs in past years, is considerable.

The iconic LeBeau casts a long shadow at Steelers headquarters. And he did some of his finest work in 2014 when he cobbled together a defense beset by injuries and not exactly overflowing with talent before some key players got hurt.

[+] EnlargeKeith Butler and Ryan Shazier
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicKeith Butler will likely lean on Ryan Shazier and other linebackers in his first season as the Steelers' defensive coordinator.
The Steelers finished 18th in both scoring (23.0 points per game allowed) and total defense (353.4 yards per game allowed), but the defense improved as the season progressed.

Butler has to build on that and will need help from young players such as linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers' first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have to succeed for Pittsburgh's defense to take a significant step forward next season.

The Steelers still don't know what they have in Jones, who has three career sacks and essentially lost the 2014 season when he dislocated his wrist in Pittsburgh's third game.

He has to emerge as a pass-rushing force since putting more pressure on the quarterback will be Butler's top priority -- and since Jones is the only outside linebacker on the 53-man roster who is signed for next season.

The speedy Shazier had his own injury issues this season -- the Ohio State product missed seven games with knee and ankle injuries -- but he has to become a playmaker in the middle of a defense that is in need of them.

Butler, who has to coax more out of Jones and Shazier, will give the Steelers a different dynamic as far as personality.

Whereas LeBeau was beloved by players, who didn't want to fail him because it would be like letting down their father, Butler is a straight talker with a Southern drawl who won't hesitate to be blunt with his players.

He bided his time as an NFL assistant, coaching the linebackers for four seasons in Cleveland and the past 12 in Pittsburgh.

Now it is his time for Butler to manage what LeBeau left in place with the Steelers while also putting his own imprint on the defense.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers fans still lamenting a season-ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens won't feel better about what running back Le'Veon Bell said Monday afternoon.

Bell
"I think I would have been able to play this weekend," Bell said following the Steelers' final meeting of the 2014 season. "It's unfortunate that we lost the game. I feel terrible about it."

Bell didn't play in the Steelers' 30-17 loss to the Ravens Saturday night because of a hyperextended right knee. The Steelers sorely missed the All-Pro back in both the running and passing game in their first playoff loss to the Ravens.

Bell said his injured knee feels good enough that he is planning to play in the Pro Bowl later this month. And he left little doubt he would have been a full-go Sunday had the Steelers advanced to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs and visited the Denver Broncos.

Bell set a Steelers' single-season record with 2,215 yards from scrimmage and the second-year man had 373 touches. The 6-1, 225-pounder said he is not worried about getting worn down by the Steelers running their offense through him.

"I'm a young guy. I feel like all of the training I've done prepares me for the season," Bell said. "I know next year I might not even need to play more."

As for what Bell can do for an encore next season after finishing second in the NFL with 1,361 rushing yards and leading the league in receiving yards (854) and total first downs (114), he said, "This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement. There's still a lot of things I can work on and get better at. I just want to continue to try to be as productive as possible."
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell has a message for those who think the Pittsburgh Steelers are better off defensively without safety Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu
"You don't disrespect [future] Hall of Famers like that," Mitchell said. "That's just absurd."

Polamalu is expected to be healthy enough to play Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC) when a team he has tormented over the years visits Heinz Field. Polamalu has practiced both workouts this week and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he anticipates the eight-time Pro Bowler suiting up against the visiting Baltimore Ravens in the AFC wild-card playoff.

Polamalu has missed the past two games because of a knee injury, and Will Allen has started in his place at strong safety.

The secondary has been a strength during that stretch and LeBeau acknowledged Thursday that Allen played one of his better games for the Steelers last Sunday night. The 11th-year veteran recorded seven tackles and made several key plays early in the Steelers' 27-17 win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"There's only one Troy," LeBeau said, "but Will Allen is a very good football player. I think with both in there we have some good safeties."

What makes Mitchell, Pittsburgh's starting free safety, scoff is the notion that Polamalu is a liability on the field as the Steelers pursue a seventh Super Bowl title.

Mitchell, who is in his first season with the Steelers, said Polamalu has had a significant impact on him.

"His selflessness and his humility, that's what makes him a great football player," Mitchell said. "How can I make my teammate better? What can I do to put him in a better position? When you start thinking like that, giving more of yourself, more of your mind, more of your body you become a better player because you're thinking about something bigger than just yourself, and I think that's the one thing I've learned from Troy that's made me a better player.

"It's not about my jumping a route and getting a great interception. It's about me staying over the top and somebody else gets the interception because I took away the deep pass. That is what makes him a Hall of Famer."

Mitchell said any perception that Polamalu hurts the Steelers' defense by freelancing is way off base. He said there is a method to the perceived madness that is one of Polamalu's hallmarks.

"If you don't know him you think he's a guy making all kind of crazy plays but you talk to him and get to know him as a person and understand how he thinks you're thinking, 'Wow," " Mitchell said. "It's really mesmerizing."

When asked if Polamalu, who is 33 and in his 12th NFL season, can still play, Mitchell did not hesitate to answer.

"No question," he said. "No question."
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said he did not have a problem with the hit that left him with a hyperextended right knee and clouded his status for Saturday's AFC wild-card playoff game.

Bell left the Steelers’ 27-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night in the third quarter after safety Reggie Nelson hit him in the knee with his helmet after a 19-yard catch.

Bell
“It was a legal hit. It’s football,” Bell said. “It’s a dangerous sport. He got me down the way he could.”

The Steelers did not take issue with the hit after the game even though it might sideline Bell, who led the AFC with 1,361 rushing yards, for their third meeting with the Baltimore Ravens this season.

Bell had run over Nelson earlier in the game when the he tried to tackle Bell high.

“I don’t know why he did that later in the game,” Bell said of the hit that was a direct shot on his knee. “I feel like [defensive backs], a majority of them, they all go for my legs because I’m a bigger guy and they’re kind of smaller guys. To get me to the ground, they usually go for my legs.

“But a lot of times it’s different because I actually got the ball and I’m trying to run and I see them and start preparing for it. It was different this game because I didn’t see him. When I caught it, then he hit me in my legs. That was really the only difference. DBs usually go low on me all the time. There’s not anything new about it.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES