Linebacker LaMarr Woodley is accustomed to football season extending beyond the 16-game regular season schedule. Only once during his six-year career had the Steelers missed the playoffs, that being in 2009, and if you asked him a few months ago he would never have thought this year would be the second time it happened.
“We are not used to it, but we put ourselves in the situation so we have to deal with it,” said Woodley. “It’s frustrating knowing you had every opportunity to put yourself in a good position to be in the playoffs and you weren’t able to.”
Woodley said he can look back at different games, different plays, throughout the season and see what happened, see why the team is where they are today, particularly some of the games early in the season.
“We were giving up too many big plays early in the year, plays that went 30 or 40 yards for a touchdown,” said Woodley. “Those plays hurt us. We gave up too many of those and were counting on the offense too much to bail us out when usually we take care of business.”
The Steelers have one last chance to take care of business on Sunday when they host the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. It will be an opportunity for them to show that no matter the scenario, they aren’t about to give up.
“We know what we are capable of. We know the talent we have here,” said running back Jonathan Dwyer. “To be where we are is upsetting. Letting games slip away from us on stupid mistakes makes you want to do better.
“It’s motivation for this week. You want to prove yourself each and every day you step on the field. This week we want to prove ourselves and finish on a good note.”
All week players have been hearing the talk that the game doesn’t mean much because there are no playoff implications. But for men who know what it means to wear the black and gold, there is plenty on the line. Most notably pride.
“I think it’s definitely pride and wanting to end the season on a positive note,” said Dwyer. “The season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I think the best thing is to end in a good way to give us momentum heading in to the next year. You want to take it personal, make sure you do what you have to do and get the win for our team and our fans.
“You don’t want to go out on a down note. The fans here deserve a win. Winning is a good way to go out. You want to end the season on a good note.”
The Steelers will face a long offseason, one that will bring changes to the makeup of the team like every offseason does. And this week could be one final time to play together, and you can bet they are going to put it all on the line.
“The guys you have been lining up with, worked all year with, you get to go out there with them again,” said receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “The reality is you might not line up to that guy again. You appreciate those moments and go out there and give it your all for them, the fans and this organization.”
Tags: Jerricho Cotchery, Jonathan Dwyer, LaMarr Woodley
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In some ways maybe it was appropriate that when Heath Miller was announced as the Steelers 2012 Most Valuable Player he wasn’t around to talk about it. Miller likely would not have felt at all comfortable talking about himself. That just isn’t his style. He always takes the quiet approach and never sings his own praises.
“I was teasing him a while back about being the team MVP and he was like, ‘yeah, right,’” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “He doesn’t think that way. That is just the humble Heath Miller. That’s what we all love about him, his humility and the way he carries himself.
“We all appreciate Heath for the way he goes about his business. He is the silent assassin, doesn’t say much but is always in the right place, doing the right things. He is one of the hardest working guys I have ever met. He definitely deserves this honor.”
Miller was selected by his teammates for the honor one day after he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time. But he wasn’t there to enjoy it having undergone surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee, suffered against the Bengals last week.
“My heart hurt for him. It was hard to see him get hurt,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “He means a lot, everything. He is such a great football player, person, and teammate. It’s amazing how one guy who is so good, is so humble. It’s about time he got these honors. But it kills me now that he is hurt.”
Miller finished the 2012 season with 71 receptions, just five shy of tying his single-season high. He also had a career high 816 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions before being placed on injured reserve this week.
“To have him on the football field is such a security blanket, a comfort zone,” said Roethlisberger. “Even if he is covered you can still get him the ball. He knows the game. To have someone like that who is so selfless is amazing.”
Miller has 400 career receptions, only the third player in Steelers history to reach that mark. His 39 career receiving touchdowns rank him first among tight ends in team history, passing Elbie Nickel (37), and he is tied for fifth in team history in receiving touchdowns among all players.
But what he means to the team goes far beyond the numbers.
“He is probably one of the best teammates you could have,” said guard Ramon Foster. “He is always here early working. He is the epitome of a team player. He doesn’t need to say much and he doesn’t. His body of work he puts on the practice field and in the game says it all. On the field he made a lot of plays to put us in position to win games. He is a unique player and I am glad to be on the team with him.”
Miller is not just a favorite in the locker room, but also a fan favorite. Every time he touches the ball crowds at home and on the road erupt in a cheer of, ‘Heeeeeeath,’ and many of his teammates did the same when filling out their MVP ballots.
“For my ballot, I didn’t just put Heath, I put Heeeeeath,” said Keisel. “We love it when we hear that at games. We love Heath. He deserves to be MVP.”
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Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
Re: Heath Miller and Maurkice Pouncey being named to the Pro Bowl:
Obviously, I think, and they both said this to me, they would trade it for more wins and a chance to play some more games. Really, I just think it’s a great honor. Both of those guys are very deserving of the award.
When you were hired you gave high praise to Miller. After seeing him play, were you even more impressed this year?
Yeah, he really did [impress me]. I know I said that. I was very excited about getting a chance to work with him. He is just the epitome of the same guy, every day. He is very dependable and reliable. What he does in the run game is what people aren’t going to notice nearly as much as the statistics. That’s what you don’t want people to miss out on, how much he does for us in protections, runs and in the pass game. He is a very unselfish player. You can count on him almost all the time to do what he is supposed to do, and he makes plays when you need him.
Is it difficult to prepare for a game that really doesn’t mean anything in the standings?
No. It’s difficult the situation we are in. It’s hard to accept that we aren’t going to get to play more games. This game is our biggest of the week. I think it’s very important. It’s not a game you want to be in. But like I said to the guys, unless you win the Super Bowl, you never get many chances in the playoffs to end the season on a winning note. We have to take advantage of that. I’ve been places where I really believed it carries over. It changes your mindset and overall mood going into the next few months, and you come back. I think a win in the last game or the last two games, whatever opportunity you have has a springboard effect for you. That’s what we need to do, get this going in a positive direction to finish the season.
Re: Pouncey’s career thus far and how he’s the only center in NFL history to be selected to three straight Pro Bowls to start his career:
He’s a football player. I mean that in a way – when he came out of college, if you just relied on his timing, speed and his combine numbers, he’d be just another guy. But when the pads are on, he’s special. His football playing ability at his position doesn’t add up to the measurables, so to speak. It comes down to, when you are evaluating these guys, they better be good football players. He is just that. I didn’t know that about him. That’s even more impressive. We see it every day. You just don’t want to take it for granted, because he is special. He is a really smart player. He helps a bunch of other guys. He is very athletic. When his pads are on, he allows you to do things you wouldn’t be able to with other players at his position.
What did you learn this year about the Steelers and about this offense?
I think there is no substitute for experience. Having a year under my belt in a new place is a big item, because you have a lot to go by now, whether it’s going to the Senior Bowl or Combine, the role we have as coaches, and our opinion counts as we move through the draft. Those things, you get a much clearer picture of your needs, at least on offense. You have a much clearer picture of the players. I personally have a much better feel for all of the coaches, who I didn’t know very well when I came here. There is no substitute for experience, and then it’s about what you do with it. I believe we will just do nothing but get better, which is what we have to do.
Re: Ben Roethlisberger saying one full offseason would be beneficial to the offense:
I think change is difficult. It’s not always the easiest thing, because it’s not always comfortable and you have to adjust. That goes for all parties involved. This case, for me, the players and coaches, it’s not easy but that doesn’t mean it’s not right. Coach Tomlin made a change. I was fortunate enough to be the guy that was chosen. You want to make your boss right, and I believe we will. A year of experience working together, all of us, I think is priceless.
Before this season, you hadn’t called the plays in three years. Is it hard to get back into the groove after having such a long layoff?
No, I think somebody asked me that earlier this season. I think that it’s something that I am very comfortable doing. There was an adjustment early. Some of that was just the operation of who is in the box, how you are communicating and who is giving you the necessary information that you have to have quickly. We worked through that in the preseason. In the regular season, I think operationally we were really good for the most part. There are always calls that you’d like to have back. You just don’t want that number to be off the charts. I felt very comfortable in that role. We just need to do a better job as a group, and we will.
Re: Possibly exploring a head coaching position if one opened:
Really, it’s not anything that I am thinking about. I have said a bunch of times, even when I came in and sat down with Coach Tomlin early on, this is where I want to be. I have almost three years of experience doing that. And I will occasionally say to Coach Tomlin, “This is a lot more fun than what you have to deal with.” In some ways, it is, because you get to coach and work with the players on a daily basis and interact all the time. It’s the closest thing to being out there, being able to be in this position. I am happy being here, and I just want to finish this year in the right manner to push us into the offseason, and get ready to be better next year.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
Re: Having no Pro Bowl selections from the defense:
I think it’s an injustice but that’s all. I’m not wasting any sleep over it. It is what it is. Our guys numbers testify what they’ve done. I’m proud of them and certainly some of them deserve to be in the Pro Bowl, but they’re not. You’ve got to win more games.
Will you be back next season?
That would be up to Coach [Mike] Tomlin. Let’s just say I really like Pittsburgh and I really like working for the Steelers. Coach Tomlin will tell you if he wants me back or not. It will be up to Mike.
Do you want to come back if you’re chosen to come back?
I love Pittsburgh.
Have you ever seen a team go through so many injuries?
I think it’s been an unusual year for that. Injuries are part of the game. You have to persevere through those. I think our guys fought through them. We needed to win a few more of those close games. It has been a very unusual year in that respect.
Were the ACL injuries as prevalent when you played, or even early in your coaching career?
I think there had been joint injuries. They’re very vulnerable in the game of football and the more they can do to protect them, the better off it is. I think they have always been probably the most common injury in the game.
Guys played through those injuries years ago.
They’d just tape an aspirin to our leg and tell us it was okay. [Laughs]
Despite the injuries, you have a chance to finish as the top defense against the run, against the pass and overall. How have you been able to do that?
The players have made the plays and created the numbers that give us an opportunity to do that. We’ve certainly made them aware of that. That is one of our goals in this game. The first goal, of course, is to win the game. But you don’t get a chance to do that very often and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to do it.
Re: The defense being able to get off the field now, as compared to when it struggled to do so earlier this season:
Well, the truth of the matter is we didn’t get off to a really good start on defense. I don’t think it was ever quite as bad as it was perceived to be but we weren’t playing the way we wanted to play. For, I’d say over a month and a half now, our third down numbers have been good. We got a little behind early in all phases, but these guys stayed together and played pretty doggone good defense and got us back to where we like to be, up near the top of the bunch.
So, the coach got smarter as the year went on?
Yeah, the better the players play, the smarter the coach is. There’s no question about that.
Re: NT Casey Hampton’s performance after rebounding from an injury:
Well not only Casey, but James Harrison missed all the coaching sessions. He missed all of training camp. [Jason] Worilds missed all of training camp. We had three pretty productive players for us that really couldn’t get football exercise until we started into the regular season. I think all of those men made steady improvement and I think the results are obvious in the performance of our team. But Casey, for two months now we’ve seen him make an awful lot of plays. Probably the one statistic we‘ve come the furthest in was the run advantage in yards allowed per rush. We know Casey is always going to be a big part of that. I think all those guys getting stronger and some of the young guys that had to transition into new roles, they got stronger as we went along and I’m very proud of this group for staying with it and fighting through a slower start than we wanted. We would like to have played better, but they played hard and played fairly well here from the midpoint of the season on.
Re: Thoughts on losing veteran players who have accomplished so much here:
They’re family and you’re always going to miss your family. Fortunately, they come back. [James] Farrior was back a few times. Aaron [Smith] drops back over every now and then. Chris Hoke we get to see from time to time. This is the nature of this business also. There’s a 16-game season and that group of athletes, in all probability, is going to be the only time that all the men in that room are going to be together. That’s why it’s always a special situation with each year and each game. I don’t think it’s ever happened where the same people from top to bottom in that room have returned. It’s a vision of life in the NFL. But we miss them. We miss those guys. They know we think of them all the time.
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It’s easy for a player to stand in front of cameras and talk about their play or the play of the team when things are going well. But in a season where the overall performance of the team has been disappointing, being a go-to guy for the media is never an easy thing.
But Casey Hampton has never shied away from it, never tried to avoid the glare of the camera and the probing questions, and that is why the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted him this year’s winner of the “Chief Award,” established in honor of Steelers’ founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. and presented annually to the member of the Steelers’ organization who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media.
“I don’t mind talking,” said Hampton. “I don’t do a whole lot of it. I know how to talk so it doesn’t really bother me.
“It’s definitely tough (this year). It’s definitely not the result that we wanted this year, but being around this business for as long as I’ve been around, I’ve almost seen everything. Nothing surprises me and you just have to take the good with the bad, keep on being professional and keep on working. That’s just what we have to do at this point.”
And as Hampton was barely finished saying thank you for winning the award, he was asked about this year’s team and if an overhaul is needed to get back to their winning ways. As always, he was frank with his answer.
“I think it’s just a few things here and there,” said Hampton. “We’ve got a mix of young guys and older guys. We’ve got to do a better job of getting those younger guys ready to go and ready to play week-in and week-out. Not only the younger guys, but everybody needs to understand that every game is important and the gravity of every game. You can’t take any game for granted. You have to go into every game the same way, and I don’t think we did that this year.”
Hampton pointed to games early in the season, games many thought the Steelers should win but didn’t, to where problems began.
“Losing to teams that you’re not supposed to lose to, not taking anything away from teams that beat us earlier, but point blank, certain teams you are supposed to beat,” said Hampton. “We just didn’t do that.”
While the Steelers had a laundry list of injuries this year that had starters missing multiple games, Hampton wouldn’t use that as an excuse, sticking to his guns on not beating the teams they should have as the main reason they are not in the playoffs this year.
“Everybody in this league has a lot of injuries,” he said. “I’m not going to make that excuse. I’m not going to say that it’s the reason that we’re in the position we are. I think more so you’ve got to win the game you’re supposed to win early. You can’t let teams that you’re not supposed to lose to beat you early and I think that’s what got us in trouble this year.”
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Tackle Mike Adams, the Steelers’ second round draft pick this year, was selected as the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award” winner by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. The award is given annually to the team’s outstanding rookie.
“To have anything with that name on it associated with you is definitely an honor,” said Adams, who grew up a Steelers fan. “He is one of the best Steelers of all time and someone we have all looked up to. To be able to win the Joe Greene award is something I am thankful for and definitely feel blessed.”
Adams is the third straight offensive lineman to win the award, as tackle Marcus Gilbert won it in 2011 and center Maurkice Pouncey in 2010.
“It feels great,” said Adams. “Coming after a guy like Marcus Gilbert last year, it feels good to keep it in the offensive line room.”
Adams made his first start against Cincinnati on Oct. 21, and started six games at right tackle this season. In his first three starts the team had a 100-yard rusher each week, two from Jonathan Dwyer and one from Isaac Redman.
Adams injured his ankle against Cleveland on Nov. 25, and has been inactive for the last four games.
“It’s football and things like that happen,” said Adams. “You just have to roll with the punches and try to keep getting better. I definitely would have liked to be out there a little more and not have gotten hurt. But I’m thankful for the chance that I got.”
Tags: Mike Adams
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