Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

The Steelers began their OTAs in earnest last week, with more than two-third of their roster showing up for the voluntary workouts.

And here’s the thing: the players who weren’t there were guys who were pretty much told they didn’t need to be there.

After some negotiations between the players and management, it was determined the first week of OTAs would be all about working with young players, getting them acclimated to the Steelers’ system.

The veteran players? They would have gotten nothing out of it. Actually, they just would have gotten in the way, taking valuable snaps away from young players.

“We understand that things have changed and now we’re playing a 17th game, and our main thing was let’s not beat our bodies up,” Steelers NFLPA rep Cam Heyward said. “Let’s approach this the right way, where we have a ramp-up period. Guys are learning and guys are taking advantage of this time. I wanted to make sure we never ostracized the guys that went in. We have a lot of guys that loved being in (the building) and we had to show this front that we didn’t want to jeopardize that.

“I think we did a great job of being open and honest with everybody and making sure we didn’t have a lot of contact. Right now, I don’t think contact is that big. Minicamp is a different thing. But OTAs, I think it’s a big time for learning, and a lot of young guys tend to improve in this time, whether it’s first-year or second-year guys. This time is about getting those guys up to speed and teaching those guys.”

Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger and nose tackle Tyson Alualu were three of the exceptions when it came to veteran starters who showed up this first week. But all three live in Pittsburgh year-round and Heyward and Roethlisberger, in particular, wanted to attend the sessions to be available from a leadership standpoint.

“The guys that aren’t here are usually veterans that have been in the system,” Heyward said. “For me and Ben, we’re trying to cultivate relationships right now. We’re trying learn different guys and new positions. That just comes with time.”

That’s exactly what you would want and expect from your veteran leaders.

The Steelers have some holes in that department with the departures of players such as center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Roethlisberger needs to be more vocal and more present than ever with what will be a very young offensive unit.

And he’s taking that role very seriously.

  • In his past 14 playoff games, Sidney Crosby has six points. He has scored three goals and has three assists.

In the recently completed series against the Islanders, Crosby had one goal and one assist in six games. He was minus-2 in the series and is minus-6 in the Penguins last 14 playoff games.

Yes, Tristan Jarry was a big reason why the Penguins lost that series. He wasn’t good.

But let’s not pretend that Crosby has been a major factor the past three years in the postseason.

He wasn’t the reason the Penguins lost the series against the Islanders, but he most certainly wasn’t a factor in them winning it.

  • After getting to 12-11 in their first 23 games with a win over the Royals April 27, the Pirates were 6-20 since then going into Friday night’s three-game series against the Rockies.

Now, the Rockies are equally bad. They’re 19-32 overall and are an astounding 3-20 on the road this season.

But does anyone have confidence the Pirates can even win two of three against Colorado this weekend given how they have played of late?

The kicker was that abomination of a defensive play Thursday against the Cubs when first baseman Will Craig thought it would be a good idea to chase Javier Baez back toward home plate with a runner on second after Baez hit a sharp grounder to third – with two outs.

The throw pulled Craig off the bag slightly, but he could have simply turned and stepped on first base to end the inning. Instead, Baez wound up on second base and the Cubs scored a run in a 5-3 win over the Pirates.

It was the kind of play you’d be upset with as a manager if a Pinto team did it – let alone seeing it happen on a Major League field.

The Pirates are missing a number of their regular starters right now because of injuries. But that doesn’t mean baseball common sense goes out the window.

The team is struggling more than enough on its own without giving runs away in ridiculous fashion.

  • The biggest thing Roethlisberger seems to want to accomplish at the Steelers’ OTA sessions? Working with new running back Najee Harris – a lot.

For anyone concerned about whether Roethlisberger will use the rookie first-round draft pick, they shouldn’t. Those two have been attached at the hip each day.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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