Mehno: Taylor needs good season

PITTSBURGH – Dick LeBeau still likes Ike.

That should count for something as the Pittsburgh Steelers try to rebuild their defense this season.

LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, recently told that Taylor’s 2013 season wasn’t as bad as a lot of people think it was. He said there was a definite improvement in the second half of the season, when the Steelers rallied to finish 8-8.

But what about that lousy start?

LeBeau said that Taylor was playing through injuries that made him less effective. He said that Taylor never used the injuries as an excuse, and he never asked out of the lineup because he knew the Steelers needed him.

Taylor’s improvement is vital for a team trying to get back in the postseason after sitting out for two seasons.

The big questions about this year’s Steelers are almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. The team continues to weed out veterans who have gotten too old and too slow to help. The turnover in the past two seasons has been significant.

Taylor is one of the veteran holdovers, albeit at a greatly reduced price. That reflects the kind of season he had last year. Taylor opted for a drastic pay cut rather than take his chances on the free agent market. That would have meant trying to learn a new system at age 34.

For whatever it’s worth at this point on the calendar, LeBeau says Taylor has looked good so far in camp.

If he carries that over to the season, it will be good news for a defense that needs all the help it can get.

New weapon

The most exciting player to emerge so far for the Steelers is Dri Archer, a hybrid receiver and running back.

Bet that offensive coordinator Todd Haley is devising a number of ways to use Archer’s speed.

With the upgrade at running back that came with adding LaGarrette Blount, the only issue with the offense is how quickly new receivers can get up to speed with what Ben Roethlisberger wants to do from the no-huddle. The Steelers should be able to score points; the question is how good they’ll be at preventing them.

Bad move

The Pirates made a tactical error when manager Clint Hurdle used Neil Walker to pinch hit in Saturday’s game.

That appearance cost them a chance to realistically put Walker on the disabled list as he deals with lower back stiffness. In addition to eliminating the possibility of making the DL assignment retroactive, what did they hope to get from Walker? He hadn’t been in a game in three days, and he was facing a hard-throwing closer.

The odds against success were pretty strong, and the Pirates reset the clock on a possible DL designation, to their disadvantage.

Fun race

When the Pirates beat the Detroit Tigers Monday, the Kansas City Royals overtook them for the lead in the American League Central.

There’s a long way to go before the races are decided, but the free-spending Tigers could face the possibility of finishing behind the budget-minded Royals.

That might be fun to watch.

Mehno can be reached at