NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - INSIDE SLANT

The theme of the 2014 offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers was getting younger and faster. The Steelers chose not to re-sign many aging veterans such as defensive end Brett Keisel, safety Ryan Clark, linebacker Larry Foote and receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Their replacements were signed in free agency and selected in the draft, and they all have one thing in common: speed.

Safety Mike Mitchell was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract and replaced Clark in the back end. Ryan Shazier, the fastest linebacker in the draft, was the team's first-round pick and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup during OTAs and minicamp. The speed theme continued in the third and fourth rounds. The Steelers chose Kent State's Dri Archer, the fastest player at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, in the third round and expect him to make an immediate impact as a returner on special teams. The coaches are trying to figure out where he fits best in the offense. He attended meetings and practiced with both position groups during spring workouts. In the fourth round, receiver Martavis Bryant was selected and the plan is for him to stretch the field much in the same way Mike Wallace did for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before he left in free agency before last season.

The Steelers were 6-2 in the second half of last season and almost sneaked into the playoffs because Roethlisberger ran the no-huddle offense and masked some of the team's defensive issues by scoring 27.8 points per game over the final eight contests. In the spring, the Steelers worked extensively on the no-huddle and they expect it to be a staple of the offense.

Roethlisberger commented during minicamp that the Steelers defense is faster than he has ever seen in his 11-year career. Expect defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to draw up some blitzes for Mitchell and Shazier, who occasionally lined up at outside linebacker in the spring. The Steelers hope the speed will produce more turnovers. They have forced just 40 turnovers the past two seasons.

One other area that will be emphasized in training camp is run defense. The Steelers, perennially one of the top rush defenses in the league, fell to 21st in that category last year. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, the team's second-round pick, was chosen to help fix that problem.


Players report: July 25

First practice: July 26

Joint practices with Bills: Aug. 13-14

Camp ends: Aug. 16


NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - NOTES, QUOTES

--Second-year running back Le'Veon Bell missed three games in 2013, but he still managed to set the franchise record for most yards from scrimmage for a rookie. Bell had 1,259 yards, 860 rushing and 399 receiving in 13 games. Franco Harris, the previous record-holder, had 1,235 yards in 14 games as a rookie in 1972.

--Receiver Antonio Brown set a franchise record with 1,499 receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history to record at least five receptions and 50 yards in every game of a season. He made his second Pro Bowl but his first as a receiver. He received the honor in 2011 as a punt returner.

--Team strength: Quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger is coming off one of his best seasons. He passed for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns, and was most productive down the stretch when the coaches committed to the no-huddle offense. Expect similar or better production this season if the no-huddle is implemented from the start.

The Steelers have leaned on Roethlisberger and the passing game for the last few years because the running game stalled. New line coach Mike Munchak was hired to fix the problems in the running game. If he does, Roethlisberger can have an even better 2014 because the play-action threat would return.

--Breakout player: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton.