Steelers' Ward eager to expand playbook
By Scott Brown
Thursday, May 31, 2007
This time of year is as good as any for NFL teams to tinker, which might explain tight end Heath Miller's lining up as a wideout and Hines Ward's lining up as a slot receiver.
But such a formation represents more than experimentation during the organized team activity practices that the Steelers have been holding at their South Side facility.
As Ward said, it is part of the offense the Steelers plan to use next season -- and part of the premise that if they spread the field, their receivers will get a favorable matchup that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can exploit.
"We're putting in the foundation of working on it now and getting a feel, getting a rhythm," Ward said Wednesday after a voluntary practice. "As training camp comes, we'll be hitting on all cylinders as far as the hurry-up offense and the no-huddle. There's no question we're going to use it. It's going to be a focal part of our packages.
"It feels comfortable, and (Roethlisberger) likes it. The more and more a quarterback feels comfortable with it, the more and more we're going to run it."
Ward certainly isn't raising any objections to the new offense, even though it will mean extra playbook study for the four-time Pro Bowler since he will move around more than in past seasons.
Ward is particularly excited about the opportunity to line up as a slot receiver, particularly when the Steelers spread the field and are in no-huddle mode. The nine-year veteran said it will make him much harder to defend than when he is on the outside and opposing teams have the option of giving their cornerback help from a safety.
"Me playing slot a lot more takes the double-team off me," said Ward, who is poised to break John Stallworth's team record for career receiving yards this season. "When you know where I'm at all the time as far as being on the outside, you can play Cover 2 to Hines all of the time. Now, Hines can play outside, inside, line up in the backfield, move around to a lot of positions. It's going to give me a lot more opportunities, but it should help open up a lot of things for other guys."
That includes running back Willie Parker.
Ward said a more wide-open offense doesn't mean the Steelers will get away from running the ball. They will, he said, take a more creative approach to moving the ball, and that includes shorter passes that should help make Roethlisberger and the offense more efficient.
The Steelers ranked sixth in the NFL last season in third-down conversions, but Ward said he expects them to improve on their conversion rate of 42.9 percent.
"You pick up 5 yards on every down, and you ought to have success on third-down conversions, and that's what we want, to go get our third-down conversion a little higher, our completion percentage a little higher," said Ward, who had four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2001-04. "You don't have to go deep all of the time. You can have an effective passing game short, nitpick here and there, and then take your shots when the opportunity presents itself."
Scott Brown can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 412-481-5432
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And here's a shot of Ward modeling the new throwback helmets the Steelers will be wearing this season: