Steelers offense primed for breakout year

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - No matter how many touchdowns he scores, Super Bowl rings he wins or carefully choreographed end zone celebrations the “Dancing With the Stars” champion executes to perfection, Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward knows his team’s identity will never change.

For proof, the 14-year veteran points to the portrait-lined wall of the Steelers’ offices.

“All you see is the defensive guys, offensive linemen, running backs,” Ward said. “There’s no room for wideouts. There’s only two quarterbacks in this franchise that you can name and that’s Ben (Roethlisberger) and Terry Bradshaw. It is what it is here.”

For decades it’s been defense. It’s been some burly running back _ from Franco Harris to Barry Foster to Jerome Bettis _ blowing through linebackers. It’s been blue collar.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s about to change.

The defending AFC champions open the season on Sunday against rival Baltimore with perhaps the most dynamic offense during Ward’s lengthy career. The 29-year-old Roethlisberger is just entering the prime of a career. Third-year wide receiver Mike Wallace is coming off a breakout season and running back Rashard Mendenhall thinks he can improve on the 13 touchdowns he scored a year ago.

Throw in speedster Antonio Brown’s eye-opening preseason (three touchdowns while averaging 25.6 yards per catch) plus the addition of former New York Jet Jerricho Cotchery and Roethlisberger understands why there’s a buzz surrounding a unit that ranked a modest 12th in points and 14th in yards a year ago.

Still, asked if this is arguably the most talent he’s ever had at his disposal and he’s typically diplomatic.

“I guess whenever you say something like that, you have to put a little asterisk by it, because you’ve got to say ‘arguably,’” Roethlisberger said. “But they’re a good group and they are very young, so they still make their fair share of mistakes. But, they’re learning and growing and they want to be great.”

And they want be great now.

Wallace predicted on the opening day of training camp he wanted to put together the first 2,000-yard season by a receiver in league history. He’s not backing down from the goal, but thinks it may be harder to come by only because there’s only one ball to go around and too many options at Roethlisberger’s disposal.

Then again, that’s probably a good thing.

“It might make it easier because I might have a lot of one-on-one coverage,” Wallace said.

Highly unlikely for a player that averaged 21.0 yards a catch in 2010. Wallace will almost certainly have plenty of company as he roams through the Baltimore secondary on Sunday.

Even if he does, Roethlisberger has such confidence in Wallace he might take a chance anyway, the product of a relationship that’s flourished.

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