Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said he watched during OTAs and minicamp as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley "grew closer and closer to each other," and he doesn't believe there should be any concerns about the new offense.
"It's going to be fun, exciting," Sanders said Saturday during an autograph session at Sports Shop in Logan Valley Mall. "Todd Haley is bringing in an offense that's based off of play-action, so we're going to run the ball to open up the pass."
Things will be much different on offense under Haley than they were under former coordinator Bruce Arians, but the Steelers players still don't know just how different.
Mirror photo by Cory Giger
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders chats with fan Clyde Keith of Altoona during an autograph session Saturday.
"We don't have our identity yet on offense," Sanders said. "We're still creating that. We're going to base it off whatever team we're playing.
"I've been talking to Todd, just trying to get if we're going to run the ball or we're going to throw the ball, and he said we're going to do whatever we've got to do to win. So sounds good to me."
Then Sanders cracked a little smile and said the same thing all receivers would love from an offense.
"Hopefully we're passing the ball 50 times a game," he said.
Sanders, a third-year pro out of SMU, had 28 catches for 376 yards and two TDs as a rookie in 2010 and 22 catches for 288 yards and two scores last season. He's part of a talented young receiving corps that no longer includes Hines Ward but will feature Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Sanders believes the Steelers will have "an explosive offense" and likes what he's seen so far from Haley during OTAs and minicamp.
"He's a cool guy, very cool guy. Very grounded," Sanders said. "He tells us every day, 'If there's something in the offense that you don't like, come to me and ask me or tell me and I'll try to get it situated.'
"He said the only thing that he wants, he just wants it to be right. He wants us to be on the same page, and he wants to score points. He wants to be the No. 1 offense in the National Football League."
For that to come close to happening, Roethlisberger and Haley will have to form a strong player-coach bond and trust in one another. Haley has a reputation for being a polarizing coach, so his relationship with Roethlisberger -- who was good friends with Arians -- will be closely monitored.
"I think they're starting to get on the same page," Sanders said, "as far as what Ben wants and what Todd wants and working together, just trying to be successful and trying to bring a championship to Pittsburgh."
So far, Haley hasn't displayed an overly intense or aggressive personality in practice.
"Nah, I haven't seen that, not once," Sanders said. "He tells us every day that we're all grown men and he's going to continue to treat us like grown men."
Another major factor in the Steelers' success this season will be Wallace, a budding star who caught 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight TDs last season. Wallace held out of OTAs and minicamp because of a contract dispute, but barring some unforeseen event, he should be signed and ready to go for the season.
"He wants to be out there with us making plays in minicamp and everything, but the business side unfortunately won't allow him to do that," Sanders said. "But hopefully they work out his deal, and in training camp, 17 will be out there with us."
Sanders should have a bigger role in the offense this season with the retirement of Ward, who finished his career with 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 TDs.
There's been plenty of discussion in recent months about whether Ward is a Hall of Famer or not, but there's no doubt in Sanders' mind.
As the receiver was talking to a young fan Saturday, the boy's father said, "He loves that you played with Hines Ward."
Sanders immediately responded, "I loved it, too."
"If anyone should get [in the Hall of Fame], I think Hines Ward should get it," Sanders said. "He's been in the Pro Bowl several times, two Super Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP, I think he's well worth it."