PITTSBURGH (AP) — Brett Keisel glanced around the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive meeting room one day at training camp and the defensive end was struck by what — or actually who — he didn't see.
No James Farrior. No Aaron Smith. No Chris Hoke. All important role players in Pittsburgh's run of three Super Bowl appearances in six years. All part of a mass offseason exodus — by Steelers' standards anyway — that left the team decidedly younger though Keisel stressed no less focused on a seventh Lombardi trophy.
"Yeah, you notice when you're one of the oldest guys in the room," said Keisel, who turns 34 in September. "But you know how it is around here. The standard is the standard and these young guys, they know what's expected and what they have to do to help this team win."
And win now. In that sense, it's business as usual in Pittsburgh. It's also one of the few things that have remained intact following a busy offseason for one of the NFL's most stable franchises.
Hines Ward, and his team-record 1,000 career receptions, was released. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was let go. Offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu was also shown the door as part of a youth movement along the offensive line.
While coach Mike Tomlin allows the locker room will miss the presence of leaders like Ward and Farrior, he's hardly concerned about how it will affect the Steelers on the field.
"From the formation of a team and the playmaking standpoint, the plays are going to be made," he said. "The wheels will continue to turn ... it's bigger than all of us. Somebody is going to catch passes. Somebody is going to tackle people."
Hopefully just a little bit better than they did a year ago.
The Steelers went 12-4 in 2011 but lacked a certain killer instinct. They led the league in yards allowed but were last in turnovers created and let Tim Tebow kick them out of the playoffs with a wild overtime playoff win. Pittsburgh's offense moved the ball with ease but struggled scoring points, one of the main reasons the popular and laid-back Arians was replaced with the fiery Todd Haley, who is hoping to give the running game some needed thump.
"We want to be a team that most importantly, can run it when we want to run it and throw it when we have to throw it," Haley said.
To get there, the team drafted All-American guard David DeCastro in the first round and massive left tackle Mike Adams in the second in hopes they can bolster a line that gave up 42 sacks last season and made quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spend most of the year shaking off nagging injuries due to a constant pounding.
That plan hit a significant bump in the preseason as Adams struggled to adjust to the NFL's speed and DeCastro is out indefinitely with a right knee injury.
Now the revamped line is merely reshuffled. Veteran Willie Colon moved from right tackle to left guard, while Ramon Foster will fill in at right guard until DeCastro returns. Max Starks recovered from offseason knee surgery in time to re-sign and protect good friend Roethlisberger's blind side while Adams gets his bearings.
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