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Steelers News: Can Todd Haley keep all the offensive stars happy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have all their weapons back in 2017, but can they all remain happy?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a legitimate offense—no one is debating that. But several, including myself, have wondered if there’s enough love in the world for Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant to all be happy.

Sure, the players will talk about how, if they’re winning, they’re happy, but everyone still wants his yards and touches. This will come down to decisions made by Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, but should this even be a talking point?

The answer is no, but then again, here we are talking about it. Time to get you caught up with all the Black-and-gold news swirling around the walls of BTSC.

...Offensive coordinator Todd Haley knows Bell wants to be involved early. But he also has a quarterback, star receiver and others to keep happy.

It’s a delicate balance for a play-caller.

“It’s a fine line,” Haley said. “We do everything possible to try to get the quarterback going, to get the line going, to get the running back going, to get A.B. going. You have a lot of guys to think about. The No. 1 thing is to be efficient and to have success. When you do that the ball gets spread around, guys get into a rhythm. When you don’t, you’re coming to the sidelines quicker than you want to.”

Bell isn’t the only one who wants to get a feel for the running game early. It’s beneficial for offensive linemen too because it keeps defensive linemen guessing about what’s coming next.

“We want to establish it early anyway so we can get the defense on their heels,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “Play-action comes into play. We have to be able to take advantage of that.”

The Steelers didn’t run the ball effectively against the Browns. Bell’s 32 rushing yards were tied for the fourth-fewest rushing yards of his career. The previous time Bell was held to 32 yards was Week 8 a year ago in Baltimore. Shortly thereafter, he went on a tear, rushing for 835 yards over a six-game span.

The Browns were able to clog running lanes by blitzing their cornerbacks off the edge.

“We didn’t do a great job of adjusting to that,” right guard David DeCastro said. “It was a little unorthodox.”

“We wanted to get the ball outside because they kept slamming everyone inside,” Gilbert added. “We couldn’t get our runs to bust up inside. We wanted to get outside, but we kept getting holding calls. That’s why we didn’t run the ball as much. But we can’t point at one particular thing. We have to find a way no matter what because we’re capable of doing that.”

Is it possible Antonio Brown might be better than ever?

Secondary coach Carnell Lake suggested that in training camp when he said the Steelers All-Pro receiver improved his quickness coming out of breaks.

And he showed that in the season opener in Cleveland, catching all 11 targeted passes for 182 yards and also drawing a pass-interference penalty that netted 41 yards.

“That’s unheard of,” cornerback Artie Burns said.

The last player to catch all his targeted passes and have 11+ receptions was New England’s Brandon LaFell on Oct. 24, 2016 against Chicago, according to Elias Sports Bureau. LaFell had 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s crazy for a 180-something to do,” said Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, who played against Brown when he was with the Cleveland Browns. “A.B. is special. They don’t make ‘em like A.B. all the time.”

It’s hard to fathom Brown being even better because he already has more receptions in any two-year (262), three-year (375) and four-year period (481) than any player in NFL history.

“A.B. is in a class of his own,” Haden said.

It wasn't the ideal way to break in two new acquisitions, plus a returning injured starter, to the secondary with the NFL regular season rapidly approaching.

Cornerback Joe Haden and safety J.J. Wilcox had a week of preparation with the Steelers after joining the team late in the preseason. Free safety Mike Mitchell, after sitting out all of August with a hamstring injury, returned simultaneously with the newcomers, giving them just four practices to bond before the Sept. 10 opener in Cleveland.

Given that they were joining two second-year players, including strong safety Sean Davis, who missed portions of training camp, the potential existed for some major communication breakdowns in the secondary.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler noticed a few communication flaws but generally was impressed with how the secondary responded in a 21-18 win at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“That's going to happen when you haven't practiced together,” Butler said on Thursday. “Even though you might know each other well and have played with each other in the past, it's not the same if you do it every year.”

“You've got to get used to a bunch of new guys, and the communication is important. For the most part, it was good, but there are some parts of it that we need to clean up.”

It's a place he spent four years worth of home game-days while at Pitt, and it's a place where he has logged 100 yards from scrimmage in a pro game (albeit during the preseason). But for James Conner, his first regular-season home game in the NFL is all the more special because it's at Heinz Field.

The Steelers open their home schedule Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I can't wait,” the Steelers rookie running back said.

“I expect a great crowd and a great atmosphere.”

As a Pitt Panther, Conner had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 35 touchdowns in 21 games at Heinz Field. He also appeared in two preseason games there for the Steelers last month.

There are more than 2,000 players on the rosters of NFL teams — none has the easy access and proximity to his alma mater that Conner does. The Steelers and Pitt are the only NFL and college programs that share a practice facility, and Conner is the lone Pitt alumnus on the Steelers' active roster or practice squad.

“I get to go over there and see my guys,” Conner said. “Great relationships over there, and I'm thankful to still be close to them.”

“This facility is one of a kind, on both sides. And I'm fortunate to have those guys who I am close with, still close (by).”

But do the Pitt players and staff treat him any differently now that Conner is in the NFL?

“No — and that's why I like going over there,” Conner said. “People from outside look at you different, that you've got a different title, but my position coach, my strength coach, I'm still just regular old James to them. And that's how I like it.”

After the Steelers’ offense managed to score only two touchdowns against the Browns last week, questions linger about whether the offense still has rust to work off and how they might perform moving forward.

The Browns’ defense was missing Joe Haden, its most recognized star in recent seasons who’s now with the Steelers, in addition to their No. 1 overall pick in Myles Garrett. But still they managed to limit the Steelers’ offense to just two touchdown drives.

If there was ever a time for a quick turnaround, the Steelers could use it now as they prepare to face a defense featuring five players that have played in the Pro Bowl and several other young stars working into their prime.

We take a look at how the Steelers might exploit this talented defense.