PITTSBURGH -- After playing through a season of change that began with the departure of longtime general manager Kevin Colbert and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have only a handful of decisions to make this offseason.
At the top of the list is determining the future of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who is under contract through the 2023 season.
"I thought he got better," coach Mike Tomlin said at his end-of-year news conference Monday. "Just like our team got better. I'm not going to speculate about him or anyone as I stand here today. ... I'm just beginning the process of transitioning in terms of wrapping a bow around it and look and seeing what 2023 looks like. I'm just not there. We got some work to do, but largely I thought he got better in the ways that we got better. It was encouraging."
Tomlin declined to say how much input quarterback Kenny Pickett would have in the team's decision on Canada, but Pickett said he was often on the same page with his coordinator.
"We're just getting to know each other," Pickett said Sunday. "I get to know how he calls games. He gets to know what I like, constant communication. The more I was playing, the more input I was able to have and what I like. We were always on the same page with Coach Sully [Mike Sullivan] as well."
Following a 2-6 start, the Steelers went 7-2 after the bye week to finish 9-8. A large reason for that turnaround, offensive lineman Kevin Dotson said Monday, was the blunt conversations the team had with Tomlin and Canada during the bye week. The work done during the bye week helped the team build trust and confidence in Canada and in each other.
"At the beginning of the year everybody was iffy," Dotson said. "Everybody was iffy on the O-line. Everybody was iffy on everything. It definitely built my confidence up when I could start seeing a little bit of the vision.
"The bye week definitely opened up a lot of people's eyes to his true vision because we had that sit-down [talking about] what he expects and what he wants to happen in the future. And Tomlin supplemented that with his vision, and I think that helped us all."
That vision, rookie Connor Heyward said, was about running the ball well, making plays on the outside and winning in the flat.
"When we're doing the right things and we're all executing and putting points on the board, it's not just a one-way street," Heyward said. "We're out there playing, and we got to make the plays. Sometimes yeah, things can be called at different moments, but everybody's running the same stuff and it's our job to go out there and execute and win our one-on-ones or win whatever the defense is throwing at us."
At the bye, the Steelers were averaging 94.8 rushing yards per game, but in the second half of the season they averaged 146.4.
"Us just believing in each other and just looking in the mirror and knowing that we're the ones on the field rather than what's getting called," running back Najee Harris said Sunday. "We're the ones that's making the plays. So man, I think us just looking in the mirror and realizing that when we stick together and we want to play, we can be really good."
Harris also defended the offensive coordinator from comments made throughout the season from Steelers opponents that Canada's playcalling was predictable.
"We all believe in Canada," Harris said. "Everybody's saying that he called the same plays, but everybody calls the same plays, you know what I mean? You can look at everybody everywhere. Everybody calls the same plays. He's dressed up a different way. If you really know X's and O's, that's really what it is. All that playcalling stuff, I think that's just a cover-up for just the lack of stuff that we were doing on the field as players."