PITTSBURGH — General Manager Kevin Colbert was low on roster details but high in expectations in his media session Thursday.
Colbert wasn’t leaning on the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 13-win season, which should reverberate through the offseason.
The Steelers weren’t necessarily better in 2017 than in 2016 because they won more regular-season games.
Check out this tone-setting sampling:
On the 2017 season: “Unless we are winning a championship, no one will sit here and say we were good enough.”
On the defense: “We know we have a challenge defensively. We have to get better against the run.”
On players under contract potentially not returning: “That’s always a possibility when you’re trying to get your team better and under the cap.”
On free agency: “We won’t close the door on anybody.” However, he points out the Steelers typically prefer first-contract guys they drafted.
On the playoffs: “Jacksonville outplayed us. As plain as can be.”
On the defensive roster: “Some guys are on the upswing, some guys are in their prime and some guys are still playing and they might be on the downside. Doesn’t mean they still can’t help you. They might not be the player they were before. That group has the potential to get better just through more play and learning from their mistakes, as I know they are willing to do and they are working toward it.” This sounds like a signal to veterans with sizable cap numbers such as safety Mike Mitchell or cornerback William Gay. Perhaps the Steelers will be looking for a pay cut or two.
Overall, that’s quite the variety of heat. Add in a line about the defense being too aggressive against the pass and too passive against the run and Colbert was in midseason form, if he had one (he doesn’t talk to the media during the season). In early February, team president Art Rooney II called for improvements, but cited the team’s victory total as a positive. Colbert didn’t use that line.
His comments should be welcome to Steelers fans who watched the run defense allow 150 yards or more in three of the last six games. Colbert was even reluctant to blame that issue on the absence of Ryan Shazier, pointing to an ugly Week 3 game in Chicago in which Shazier played.
Though pressed against the cap as a financial collision with Le’Veon Bell looms, the Steelers aren’t about to make wholesale changes. But Colbert sounds like a man who’s about to make this offseason interesting.
“If we don’t change the roster we had in 2017, what reason would we think there wouldn’t be any difference in the results?” Colbert said. “We have to be ready to be better than we were last year.”
Ex-Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt to be defensive assistant with New York Giants
In addition, two of Pruitt’s former assistants at Tennessee are also on the move. Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley has taken the defensive backs job with the Los Angeles Chargers and running backs coach Jay Graham is headed to Alabama as the Crimson Tide’s special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Pruitt, who spent three seasons as the Vols’ coach, was fired for cause on Jan. 18 following an investigation that uncovered what university chancellor Donde Plowman called “serious violations of NCAA rules.”
Pruitt has retained Michael Lyons and the Dallas-based trial firm Lyons & Simmons to represent him and plans to fight the university’s decision to fire him for cause. Lyons accused the university of trying to disparage and destroy Pruitt’s character in an effort to keep from paying Pruitt what the university owes him.
Pruitt was 16-19 overall at Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban and a part of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 national championship staff. Pruitt, 46, also was the defensive coordinator at Florida State in 2013 when the Seminoles won the national championship.
Giants coach Joe Judge and Pruitt worked together under Saban on the Alabama staff from 2009 to ’11.
Tennessee announced Josh Heupel as its new head coach on Wednesday. Heupel was previously at UCF.
Texans coach David Culley tasked with changing culture, but will he have Deshaun Watson?
HOUSTON — Before all of the trade talk, reports about his future and the hiring of new coach David Culley, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked what he was looking for in his next head coach.
“I mean, we just need a whole culture shift,” Watson said earlier in the month. “We just need new energy. We need discipline, we need structure, we need a leader so we can follow that leader as players. That’s what we need. We’ve got to have the love of not just the game of football, because that’s what we do, but the love for people and the people in this organization.”
“… We need someone that stands tall and [says] this is who we’re following and this is the way it goes … and we’re going to do it this way to win.”
Of course, Watson might not be with the Texans to play for Culley, as ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday that the quarterback is expected to still want out of Houston regardless of whom the team hires. Watson wasn’t the only one who felt there needed to be a culture change.
By hiring Culley, the Texans hope they’ve found that person to build the foundation that Watson asked for.
But, for most Texans fans, Culley’s name isn’t a familiar one. So who is he and why did Texans CEO Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio pick him to be the franchise’s next head coach?
Who is David Culley?
Culley, 65, has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore as the Ravens’ assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He just finished his 27th season as an NFL coach after 16 seasons in various college coaching roles. He’ll be the oldest coach in NFL history at the time of his head-coaching debut.
Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level, but he has been an assistant head coach before his stint in Baltimore, for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens were a run-first offense in 2020, as they led the NFL in rushing yards and ranked last in passing yards.
What does he bring to Houston?
The Texans were serious about fixing the culture within the organization, and they believe Culley is that person.
After doing a second interview with the Texans — this time in person — the team was impressed by Culley’s energy and believe he has the NFL experience to deliver that cultural shift within the building, even if he hasn’t been a coordinator before.
“The thing I would emphasize about Coach Culley, more than anything, is what an amazing teacher and communicator he is,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in 2019. “He’s probably the best — I would say he’s the best straight-up teacher, communicator, that I’ve seen coaching football one-on-one, not just because he coaches it so well, but because he’s so relentless and he coaches the important things.”
“You can be relentless, but if you’re coaching things that don’t matter, then that’s just a lot of hot air. He’s coaching the things that matter, and you see the guys getting better every day within his position group.”
McNair knew he wanted whomever he hired as general manager to take the lead on the coaching search. That is Caserio, who said the characteristic he was looking for most in a head coach was an ability to “lead people.”
“Because in the end, football is a sport but it’s about people, right?” Caserio said. “You have to make an investment in people. You have to be able to lead people. … Those are some of the things that will be important relative to whether or not they’re a good playcaller on their respective side of the ball. But whoever it is will have some competency in some area.”
“… I would say in our situation, relative to Deshaun, trying to put something in place that’s sustainable for him that can allow him and the rest of the team and the organization to go out there and perform to their maximum capacity on a week-to-week basis. That’s the goal.”
What does this mean for Deshaun Watson?
This is perhaps the most important question that only Watson can answer. If Watson still wants out regardless of whom the Texans hired, as Mortensen reported, then hiring Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy instead wouldn’t have made a difference.
Now that the Texans have hired their new coach, the question is whether Watson will be here to see the culture shift he asked for in Houston. The quarterback hasn’t requested a trade, but he could decide to do so once the hire is officially announced.
While the Texans could agree to trade terms with another team before the start of the new league year on March 17, a trade cannot be executed until then. The key timeframe to pay attention to is before the NFL draft in April, because if the Texans were to trade Watson, they would want to make sure they’re getting 2021 draft capital, when the pick slots are locked in.
What’s next in Houston?
Watson put up the best numbers of his young career in 2020 and the team won only four games. Houston’s defense struggled all season, finishing 30th in Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA. Of course, there are still a lot of holes on a defense that struggled primarily because it lacked young difference-makers, so whomever Culley hires as his defensive coordinator will have a tall task ahead.
Regardless of whether the Texans trade Watson or not, those holes on the roster will remain. The Texans’ first pick in this draft is No. 67, so they won’t be able to add impact talent at a team-friendly price, and they are currently $18 million over the projected 2021 salary cap (although that matters less than the cash they’ve already committed, which gives them some flexibility).
If Houston trades Watson, they will be able to plug in pieces on the defense and upgrade that side of the ball significantly, but then questions will remain at quarterback.
Houston Texans hire Baltimore Ravens’ David Culley as head coach, sources say
Culley, 65, who has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore, just completed his 27nd season as an NFL coach. Along with serving as the team’s assistant head coach, Culley was Baltimore’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. The Ravens finished the 2020 season ranked last in the NFL in passing.
“It’s a great opportunity there,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the Texans’ opening in the week leading up to Baltimore’s divisional playoff game. “They have a heck of an organization. I do believe that David Culley would be a tremendous hire for any team; maybe, especially, the Texans with Deshaun Watson.”
Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level. He was also an assistant head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. When the Ravens hired Culley in 2019, Harbaugh said the coach was highly respected “as a teacher, game-planner and motivator.”
When the Texans fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien in October, Houston became the first team with an opening for either position. The Texans hired Nick Caserio as their new general manager earlier this month and gave him the reins to their head-coaching search.
Along with Culley, Houston interviewed Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and current Texans quarterback Josh McCown after Caserio took over. The Texans also interviewed Brandon Staley before he was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Amid the Texans’ coaching search, sources told ESPN that Watson was not happy with the process the organization used to hire Caserio. And sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that regardless of whom the Texans hired as their next head coach, Watson’s desire to be traded was not expected to change.
The Texans are coming off a 4-12 season, one in which Watson played the best football of his NFL career. The fourth-year quarterback set career highs in touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage. He also threw a career-low seven interceptions.
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