Steelers Offense To Remain Intact Under New OC Arians

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Sunday, March 18, 2007
By Paul Eide
Steelers Fever Columnist


At first glance, losing both offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line/assistant head coach Russ Grimm in the off-season would seem to indicate a switch to an entirely new offensive system under new head coach Mike Tomlin, giving Steelers fans plenty to wonder about heading into 2007.

Losing just one of the two offensive coaches, along with head coach Bill Cowher, would presumably take some adjusting, but to lose both seemingly gives the offense a complete makeover.

Or does it?

The Steelers find themselves in a promising scenario even with the losses of Whisenhunt and Grimm because of the presence of veteran coach Bruce Arians. Arians will take over the regins of the Steelers offensive coordinator after serving as the teams wide receivers coach since 2004 and will largely keep the old system intact.

"Bill had six or seven coordinators (during his tenure) so the playbook is six or seven languages hodge-podged together," said Arians. "They just kept adding because Bill kept it that way. We're going to streamline it into one language, eliminating things we don't need, and I hope to simplify it for our players."

Arians has a solid resume prior to accepting his position as ofensive coordinator with the Steelers. A two time college offensive coordinator (Missisippi State '93-'95, Alabama '97), Arians got his first NFL coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs as running backs coach from '89-'92, while future Steelers coach Bill Cowher was the teams defensive coordinator.

Before the two reconvened in '04, Arians coached tight ends in New Orleans ('96), quarterbacks for the Colts ('98-'00) and was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland from ('01-'03). The experience Arians accumulated in his time with other teams shows that he is familiar with not only specific individual offensive positions, but with different offensive schemes.

In Kansas City, Arians was versed in the power rushing attack grooming running backs Christian Okoye and Barry Word and a Chiefs rushing offense that finished no worse than 10th in the league from '89-'91.

In Indianapolis, Arians was instrumental in the development of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, coaching him for his first three years in the league and improving statistically each year. By Arians final year with Indy, Manning had asserted himself as one of the games best quarterbacks with a 4,413 yard, 33 touchdown 2000 season.

For his proven success developing Manning, Arians was hired by the Cleveland Browns as offensive coordinator in 2001. In three years, the Cleveland offenses struggled to an average total yardage ranking of 26th but managed the franchises only winning season and playoff berth since '94.

From there, Arians was hired by Cowher to coach the wide receivers and he responded by developing Hines Ward into one of the leagues best en route to a Super Bowl victory in 05.

So while at first glance Arians seems to be relatively unknown to some Steeler fans, upon further review it becomes evident that he has the resume and the experience to lead a successful offense.

It all depends on how much control Tomlin plans on giving Arians, but the offensive attack could look very similar to the one Whisenhunt had installed during his time in the Steel city except for a few minor adjustments.

"I love (to use) four wideouts," said Arians. "I like a better running game out of four wideouts where we can utilize them on first and second down, rather than just being in a shotgun and throwing it all the time. That will be an area we want to develop."

Promoting Arians from within is the best decision Tomlin could've made to avoid giving the entire offense a massive facelift, forcing them to learn an entirely different philosophy. The defense may look a little different than in years past because of Tomlin's background in the 4-3, but the offense should look very similar. And even though Arians is seen as more of a vertically minded play caller than Whisenhunt because of his background with the Colts, Arians realizes how critcal running the ball is for the Steelers to be successful.

"When you think of the Colts, you think of a finesse offense, but, when they came down the stretch in the playoffs, they had 100 to 150 yards rushing in every game. It's just a different style. You don't have to line up with two tight ends and two backs to run the football. Rushing yards are rushing yards."

Running the ball will certainly be a big focus of the new staff, but the most critical component may be focusing on the continued growth of QB Ben Roethlisberger. Considering how successful Arians was working with Peyton Manning, it will be interesting to see how he is able to help to help Roethlisberger bounce back from his most difficult year as a pro.

"We have an elite quarterback, or someone who can be elite, and we need to get him to that level," said Arians. "For him to even play after those things (appendectomy, motor cycle accident) happened was amazing. And to play as well as he did (at times), and one thing after the other. He needs to get back to being healthy and relaxed."

Arians knows he has his work cut out for him, but the Steelers depth and skill on the offensive side of the ball should help to ease the transition from Whisenhunt to Arians.

"Being back in the saddle and calling plays again is where I want to be," Arians said. "We got a good offensive football team and I want to maintain it and maybe make it a little better."