Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.

@ScottBrown_ESPN Yep, Hines Ward can attest that having the status of franchise icon was not enough to spare the Steelers from releasing him three years ago. The biggest difference between the former Super Bowl MVP and Polamalu is that when the Steelers released Ward they were in the process of clearing room under the salary cap. The Steelers can afford to give Polamalu time because they don't have any pressing issues with the salary cap. That does not mean they can wait forever for the eight-time Pro Bowler to decide if he wants to play in 2015 --and if that is the case the Steelers will release Polamalu -- or retire. Here is what Steelers president Art Rooney II said at the conclusion of the NFL owners meetings earlier this week on a decision regarding Polamalu: "We haven't put any drop date on it. Still more to come."

@ScottBrown_ESPN I will defer to new Chicago Bears coach John Fox, who knows a heck of a lot more about defense than I do. Fox, at the NFL owners meetings, said, "The best pass defense in the world is the pass rush." Unfortunately for the Steelers, they have issues as far as getting after getting after the cornerback and covering receivers. Even more unfortunate for them is there is no quick fix for either. That is why the Steelers have to draft well this year since they will presumably focus on defense and also hope cornerback Cortez Allen bounces back after a disastrous 2014 season and Jarvis Jones stays healthy and emerges as a force in 2015. A lot has to go right for the defense to make significant improvement next season. Fortunately for the Steelers they should have the offensive firepower to help cover for a defense that is still in transition.

@ScottBrown_ESPN All signs point to no, especially considering how tight-lipped the Steelers have been publicly about Troy Polamalu. I think the only thing that can save him --and this is only if the eight-time Pro Bowler is agreeable to a massive pay cut and a reduced role in 2015 -- is if Dan Rooney or Art Rooney II intervenes on his behalf. I don't see that happening since the Steelers rarely, if ever, let sentiment guide football and business decisions. It forces them to make hard decisions sometimes and could very well lead to the release of one of the most beloved players in franchise history. I think that happens, unfortunately, if Polamalu wants to play in 2015.

@ScottBrown_ESPN Defensive end Cameron Heyward is next in line. And I look at it the way I did with Ben Roethlisberger before he signed his five-year contract earlier this month. It is a question of when and not if as far as signing Heyward to a long-term contract. He is a cornerstone of the defense and has emerged as one of the Steelers' leaders. Heyward is due to make $6.96 million this season and the Steelers will lower his salary-cap hit in 2015 when they sign him to a multi-year contract. There is no urgency to get anything done and the Steelers will wait until after the draft before serious negotiations commence. I could see them signing Heyward in June as they did with center Maurkice Pouncey last year and getting a deal done with left tackle Kelvin Beachum after that, though maybe not until training camp.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I think they will sign a cornerback with the hopes of getting the same return on a low-risk signing as they did last year with Brice McCain. They may also sign a defensive end to provide depth behind Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, though if Cam Thomas has survived this long maybe they are content with him as a player who can swing between defensive end and nose tackle. The Steelers have made it clear that significant additions at cornerback and outside linebacker will come through the draft, so don't expect much from any free-agent signings they make moving forward.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers will apparently take a closer look one of the most talented players in the NFL draft after Randy Gregory’s stock took a potential hit following an admission of a failed drug test.

The Steelers will host Gregory for a pre-draft visit, according to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider.net, in case the Nebraska defensive end/outside linebacker falls in the draft.

Gregory is one of the top pass-rushers in the draft after recording 17 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska. He has one of the highest ceilings in the draft -- click here to watch a snapshot of his sheer power -- and the Steelers would be crazy not to at least do their homework on him.

ESPN’s Todd McShay ranks Gregory as the seventh-best player in the draft. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Gregory is the 11th-best player in the draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

Gregory told the NFL Network earlier this week that he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine last month. He reportedly failed multiple drug tests at Nebraska and his latest admission will compel teams to do extra homework on Gregory.

Will it also bring teams like the Steelers, who pick No. 22 overall and have a need for pass-rushers, into play for him?

Kiper doesn’t think so.

“I’d say the range for him is still 5 to 13 because of the [failed drug] test,” Kiper said. “Could he drop down to 12, 13? Maybe. He’s going to be kind of a wild card.”

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin met with a pair of defensive players Thursday night in advance of LSU's pro day.

And his choice of dinner companions is sure to raise the antennae of Steelers fans.

Tomlin dined with cornerback Jalen Collins and defensive end/outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, per ESPN’s Mike Triplett, getting to know each player a little better before watching them work out in Baton Rouge.

Cornerback and outside linebacker are the Steelers’ biggest needs going into the draft and Collins is widely projected as a first-round pick. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Collins should receive strong consideration by the Steelers if he is available at No. 22 overall.

Hunter could go as early as the second round after running the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the NFL combine and leading LSU with 13.5 tackles for loss last season.

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Hunter will be an outside linebacker in the NFL if he is drafted by a team that plays a 3-4 base defense.

He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive linemen at the combine, a group that included Florida’s Dante Fowler and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, and has the size to play strongside outside linebacker at the next level.

The biggest concern with Hunter, who is a physical specimen and has good measurables, is why he managed just 1.5 sacks last season.

LSU is among the schools Tomlin visits annually for pro day. The eighth-year coach said at the NFL owners meetings earlier this week not to connect draft dots based on the players he has watched work out on their college campuses.

"I am a pro day guy so don’t read too much into that,” Tomlin said with a laugh. “I go where the players are,”

As for the benefit of attending pro day workouts, Tomlin said, "I think you get what you don’t see on tape. You get to smell it and feel it and be around it. You get to see them in their environment. You get to gather formal and informal information about who and what they are.

“What you see on tape is very tangible, their pedigree and capabilities. But when you step on campus you get an opportunity to go beyond that and maybe delve into what they are willing to do and how they deal with certain situations, opportunities or challenges. I just think it better puts you in position to build a complete portfolio on each and every man.”

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert used the words “good” and “very good” earlier this week when talking about running back Le’Veon Bell.

And that was by design.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyMike Tomlin said he thinks Le'Veon Bell is "capable of being the very best."

“You have to save great for guys that have done it for a lot of years,” Colbert said. “Joe Greene taught me that a long time ago. It’s good to do it. Let’s do it again, let’s do it again. So great is reserved for very few. But he’s a very good player.”

One who is on the verge of greatness.

Bell rushed for 1,361 yards in his second NFL season. That led all AFC players and ranked behind only the 1,845 rushing yards that DeMarco Murray posted in his final season with the Dallas Cowboys.

Bell led all NFL running backs with 854 receiving yards and his absence in the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens reinforced his value in the passing game as a blocker.

Bell, who turned 23 last month, has said he still has a lot of room to get better.

Coach Mike Tomlin agreed, which is why he will push Bell as much as the All-Pro pushes himself.

“I think he is capable of being the very best,” Tomlin said. “I think that is his desire. I have a great deal of respect for what that phrase means. And I know that he does too. So his pursuit of that is going to be steeped in work and preparation and growth.

“He still is very much a young man. The thing that I like about him is that he is committed to getting better and working at his craft on a daily basis. That’s what he has shown me in the two years that I have worked with him.”

Dri Archer managed just 63 rushing and receiving yards combined last season. He also lost his job as the Pittsburgh Steelers' primary kickoff returner after averaging just 17.9 yards per return -- more than 13 yards less than Cincinnati's Adam Jones, who led the NFL in kickoff return average.

Archer, the fastest player on the Steelers, failed to add a dynamic to the offense or a special-teams unit that finished 27th in the NFL last season in kickoff returns.

But if Mike Tomlin was discouraged by what he saw after the Steelers used a third-round pick last year on Archer, he did a heck of a job of hiding it at the NFL owners meetings.

"I am excited for what 2015 could be for him," the eighth-year coach said earlier this week in Phoenix. "I have a reasonable expectation that he's going to grow in all areas and be a productive player for us. Guys like him usually do that. He is a good guy. He is a smart guy. He is hard working. He has all the variables that usually produce a positive outcome. We are going to give him an opportunity to do it."

What stands out regarding Tomlin's optimism when it comes to Archer: He did not reference the 5-8, 173-pounder's world-class speed or any other physical attributes. Instead, Tomlin talked about what he saw from Archer last season on a daily basis and mostly behind closed doors.

Not that the right approach or a strong work ethic translates into success at the highest level of football. Nor will an increased comfort level in his second NFL season answer questions about whether Archer is big enough -- and whether the Kent State product can carve out a role in an offense that is loaded at the skill positions.

The most logical starting point for Archer to make an impact is on special teams, and Tomlin said he will be given a chance to reclaim his job as the Steelers' No. 1 kickoff returner. Archer will also be given a long look as a punt returner, Tomlin said.

"He didn't have as much success as he would have liked [last season] and we would have liked for him to have," Tomlin said. "So we are obviously going to give him an opportunity to have a horse in that race again. [Returning kicks] was one of the things that attracted us to him in the draft. It's on his resume. And I am sure he is excited about having an opportunity to be a field flipper for us in that area."

The Pittsburgh Steelers were given a 'C' on the free-agency report card that ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando put together more than two weeks into the signing period.

Sando culled opinions from ESPN NFL analysts Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates and drew on his own to grade every team.

Polian lauded the Steelers' one signing of an outside free agent, saying running back DeAngelo Williams is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh at this stage of his career. Williamson liked the re-signing of James Harrison given the need the Steelers had -- and still have -- at outside linebacker.

The grade sounds about right simply because the Steelers haven't done a whole lot and lost cornerbacks instead of adding to the position.

The Steelers may still sign a cornerback -- and hope to find a bargain like they did last season when they signed Brice McCain to a veteran minimum contract almost a month after the signing period.

But they have made it clear that significant additions at cornerback will come through the NFL draft.

The Steelers' relative inactivity during free agency has been a source of frustration to fans but they have quietly done solid work over last couple of weeks.

Signing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a five-year contract headed off any questions about the future of the most important position in any sport. Williams provides a proven veteran to back up Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers have done well in re-signing their own free agents.

Questions remain at outside linebacker and cornerback. But the Steelers have made it clear they weren't going to overpay at either position even though they did make inquiries about Darrelle Revis before he signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the New York Jets.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are ever going to use a first-round draft pick again on a cornerback – they have not done so since 1997 – this would appear to be the year to do it.

Cornerback and outside linebacker are the Steelers’ biggest need with the draft five weeks away.

And with the draft “rich” in pass-rushers, according to coach Mike Tomlin, it makes sense for the Steelers to address cornerback first and then target outside linebackers.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said the three most likely cornerback candidates for the Steelers to pick in the first round are Washington’s Marcus Peters, LSU’s Jalen Collins and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson.

All three come with concerns.

Peters was kicked off Washington’s team last November after a series of run-ins with coaches. Collins started only 10 games in three seasons at LSU and recently underwent foot surgery. Johnson, meanwhile, might be better playing off coverage and the Steelers like to use their cornerback in press coverage.

But all three are widely projected as first-round picks – the Steelers have the No. 22 overall selection -- and for good reason.

Peters might be the most talented cornerback in the draft and Collins might be the best long-term prospect at the position. Johnson, meanwhile, is polished and experienced and oozes confidence, a trait that is critical for cornerbacks.

Two cornerbacks to also keep an eye on when it comes to the Steelers, Kiper said, are UConn’s Byron Jones and Utah's Eric Rowe.

Jones tested as well as anyone as the NFL combine, is a high-character kid and has position flexibility. Like Jones, Rowe tested well at the combine and also has experience playing safety.

“He tested like a first-round and played like a high pick as well at a variety of positions,” Kiper said of Rowe.

Jones did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine because he was still recovering from shoulder surgery. But he set a broad jump record with 12 feet, 3 inches – no one had ever exceeded 12 feet at the combine -- and also recorded a vertical leap of 44 inches.

“He's a really good 40 time away from having one of the better corner workouts we've ever seen," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said after the combine.

Jones is slated to run next Tuesday at UConn’s pro day and it will be interesting to see who the Steelers send to Storrs to watch the workout.

Florida State is also staging its pro day on March 31, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that is among the annual showcases he never misses.

Jones will only boost his draft stock if he runs at his pro day. Kiper said on Thursday that it would not “shock” him if Jones works his way into the first round and is selected in the range where the Steelers pick.

PHOENIX -- DeAngelo Williams did not leave the Carolina Panthers under the best of circumstances.

That did not stop his former coach from endorsing the Pittsburgh Steelers' signing of Williams earlier this month.

“They’re getting a guy that practices very hard and he’s a great example for young players of how to practice,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL owners meetings. “They’re getting a very steady player, a very smart player who played with a tremendous amount of pride in his work. Great work ethic, he takes the game very serious. He beats himself up when he makes mistakes because he wants to do everything right the first time and he runs hard, he really does.”

Williams rushed for 8,846 yards in nine seasons with the Panthers but the team released the ninth-year veteran earlier this month.

That contributed to some hard feelings Williams harbored toward the organization but also led to a fresh start in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers signed Williams to a two-year, $4 million contact to complement All-Pro Le'Veon Bell and give them a proven player to provide depth at the position.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers coveted Williams because they believe sharing carries with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina has helped preserve his legs and prepare him for the role of backing up Bell.

“I think his experience lends itself to our team makeup because we have a guy of the caliber of Le’Veon Bell,” Tomlin said, “and DeAngelo has expressed his excitement about coming alongside Le’Veon and working with him and even helping him grow and develop as a player and a man. In short space area he’s always been a guy that’s been able to stick his foot in the ground and change directions. I still see that in his play in my tape study.”

Rivera agreed.

“I think Pittsburgh’s a good place for him. I like their style of football and I think it’s going to suit him very well,” said Rivera, who was a finalist for the head-coaching job that Tomlin got in 2007. “He was somebody in all honesty that I would be able to go to and ask specific questions and know I was going to get an unfiltered answer and I really appreciated that and I asked him to continue that and be up front with me and he really was.”

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers added depth at wide receiver when they brought back another one of their free agents.

The team re-signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract. The former first-round draft pick caught just three passes last season, but established himself as a key special-teams player.

Heyward-Bey is the fourth unrestricted free agent to re-sign with the Steelers, joining outside linebackers James Harrison and Arthur Moats and tight end Matt Spaeth.

This signing won’t budge the needle, but the Steelers needed proven depth behind Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton and also a player who is willing to accept a limited role in the offense.

The return of Heyward-Bey makes it unlikely that the Steelers will sign an outside free agent at the position. It is another strong draft for wide receivers, so look for the Steelers to add one in the later rounds and also take a long look at C.J. Goodwin, who spent last season on their practice squad.

Heyward-Bey is just 28 years old and is one of the fastest players on the team. He recorded five tackles on special teams and snuffed out a fake punt by the Cincinnati Bengals in a victory that delivered the Steelers their first AFC North title since 2010.

The seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft, Heyward never fulfilled expectations in Oakland -- he averaged 517.8 receiving yards in four seasons with the Raiders –- and played a season with the Colts before signing with the Steelers.

Heyward made $795,000 in 2014 but counted just $635,000 against the salary cap, as he signed a veteran-minimum contract.

Steelers re-sign Darrius Heyward-Bey

March, 26, 2015
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[+] EnlargeDarrius Heyward-Bey
Rich Graessle/Icon SportswireDarrius Heyward-Bey is back for a second season in Pittsburgh.

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has signed a one-year contract to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team announced Thursday.

Heyward-Bey, 28, caught just three passes for 33 yards last season, his first with the Steelers. Heyward-Bey, one of the fastest players on the team, established himself as a key special-teams player and recorded five tackles on those units.

The Steelers signed Heyward-Bey to a veteran minimum contract in March 2014, making Pittsburgh his third team since entering the NFL as the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft.

Heyward-Bey never fulfilled expectations in Oakland -- he averaged 517.8 receiving yards in four seasons with the Raiders -- and played a season with the Indianapolis Colts before signing with the Steelers.


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Steelers keep Heinz Field name

March, 26, 2015
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[+] EnlargeHeinz Field
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsThe Steelers said Heinz Field will keep its name despite a planned merger between H.J. Heinz Co. and Kraft Foods Group.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' football stadium will keep the name Heinz Field despite the company's planned merger with Kraft Foods Group.

Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. says if the merger announced Wednesday is approved, the new company will be Kraft Heinz Co.

But Heinz senior vice president Michael Mullen confirms that the stadium will remain named Heinz Field.

The Heinz Co. signed a $57 million, 20-year naming rights deal when the stadium opened in 2001. That means the stadium will keep the name for at least six more years.


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PHOENIX -- It has been more than nine months since Chuck Noll died at the age of 82 but the legendary coach left an enormous imprint on the NFL .

That was evident at the NFL owners meetings held earlier this week at the Arizona Biltmore.

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomin each affirmed the organization’s commitment to building through the draft, something that started with Noll in 1969 and transformed a meandering franchise into a championship one.

John Fox, meanwhile, will try to rebuild the Chicago Bears after successful head-coaching stints with the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos by summoning what he learned from Noll as a young assistant.

Those lessons are still applicable almost three decades after Fox broke into the NFL with Noll and the Steelers.

“Fundamentals, the even-keeled approach you take with your teams, in those areas [Noll was] maybe the best ever,” said Fox, who coached the Steelers' defensive backs from from 1989-91. “I’m a little more hyper than Chuck was in personality but he was always very calming and had great wisdom. I had tremendous respect for him. Watching Chuck, [he had] a unique vision of football.”

He also had a unique approach. Noll was not consumed by football despite his enormous success and had a wide array of interests outside of the game.

“Chuck was a guy if you were an engineer and you met him somewhere socially he’d know more about engineering the next time he met you than you did,” Fox recalled. “He had that kind of love for life, love for information.”

That passion translated into Noll excelling as teacher. And it is a big reason is why Noll is the only coach to win four Super Bowls without losing one, Fox said.

“That’s what coaching is, teaching,” said Fox, who led the Panthers and Broncos to the Super Bowl and will try to do the same with the Bears. “And when a player knows you can help him be better, you’re going to put him in positions to have success, they’ll give you everything they have.

"Chuck was unique in that he won four Super Bowls and it wasn’t about how much [money] he made. You never saw a car dealership billboard [with his picture]. He was all about the players. He was a very humble man and accomplished a lot.”

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NFL Nation reporters discuss what they learned about the AFC North teams during the NFL owners meetings.

PHOENIX -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping for an extended stay on the West Coast this season.

Whether it will be granted by the NFL remains to be seen.

The Steelers petitioned the league to schedule games at San Diego and Seattle back to back so the team can stay out west and not have to make separate trips to the other side of the country in the regular season.

“I don’t have high hopes that this is going to happen, so let’s be realistic about it; but we’ll see,” Art Rooney II said Wednesday at the conclusion of the NFL owners meetings.

The Baltimore Ravens made the same request for their two West Coast games this season.

In other Steelers news, the team got a bump in the compensatory draft pick they received earlier this week from the NFL. The Steelers get an extra pick in the sixth round instead of the seventh based on gains and losses last year in free agency.

“They just said they miscommunicated,” Rooney said of why the league moved the Steelers’ compensatory pick to the sixth round.

Rooney, before leaving the Arizona Biltmore for his return to Pittsburgh, said he did not hear anything this week about when the NFL will inform the Steelers of running back Le’Veon Bell’s punishment for violating the personal conduct policy.

The same is true of the 2015 season opener, Rooney said.

The Steelers are strong candidates to play in the first game of the season at New England. The season opener is usually a home game for the defending Super Bowl champions and the Steelers are scheduled to visit the Patriots this season.

PHOENIX – There is a lot of uncertainty on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense as Kevin Colbert illustrated earlier this week.

The Steelers general manager said he sees as many as five spots open as far as starting jobs -- both cornerback positions, both outside linebacker positions and inside linebacker alongside Pro Bowler Lawrence Timmons.

Two spots secure as any on defense are end, where Cameron Heyward has established himself as a cornerstone of the unit despite starting for only one full season and where Stephon Tuitt has a chance to really come into his own in his second season.

Tuitt, a second-round draft pick in 2014, took some time to adjust to the NFL and get comfortable in the Steelers' defense.

But he started the final four games of the regular-season after Brett Keisel went down with a triceps tear and showed flashes of why the Steelers thought they got a steal when the former Notre Dame standout slipped to the second round.

No play stood out -- and revealed Tuitt’s enormous potential – more than when the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder throttled Jamaal Charles from behind after the Kansas City Chiefs running back caught a screen pass.

Tuitt, who showed excellent pursuit on the play, forced a fumble that loomed large in the Steelers’ 20-12 win.

“I think his arrow was pointed up at the end of the season and from that standpoint it’s exciting,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He didn’t die on the vine the way some rookies are capable of dying. He’s a talented young guy. He was a third-year guy out of Notre Dame when we drafted him.If you look at our football team some of the most dynamic contributors have come to us under those circumstances -- Maurkice Pouncey, Le'Veon Bell, Lawrence Timmons and others. If that group is an indication of where he is capable of going then that’s exciting.”

Tomlin should be just as excited about Heyward, who doesn’t have Tuitt’s growth potential only because he has already established himself as one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

Heyward led the Steelers with 21 quarterback pressures in 2014 and tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks. The 2011 first-round draft pick is carrying on the Steelers' legacy at defensive end, one he inherited from Aaron Smith and Keisel, his mentor.

“Cam Heyward is the core central leader to our defense and a good one,” Tomlin said. “He’s a good player. He’s got good football character. He’s hard-working. He’s a good communicator and he’s vocal. It’s been fun to watch him ascend over his years with us to that role. I look forward to him continuing to grow in that role.”

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