'I'm really excited about this group'

The arrival of mandatory veteran minicamp advanced the Steelers one step closer to the conclusion of the offseason, and one step further away from 2016's season-ending loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is happy to make strides in both directions.

"It obviously was a painful loss," Haley acknowledged regarding the 36-17 setback the Steelers absorbed at New England. "It took a long time to get over for me personally because the closer you get, the harder it is not to get to that final game.

"We just didn't make plays. We had opportunities that I think could have changed the outcome. We didn't get it done. It's in the past for me."

And the opening of training camp on July 27 at St. Vincent College is on the horizon.

Haley addressed a number of topics on Tuesday relating to how the Steelers intend to forge ahead.

Among them:  

2017 minicamp is underway at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Eye-catching rookies: "It's still very early and we have not had pads on, but I think (wide receiver and second-round pick) JuJu (Smith-Schuster) on our side of the ball has looked like he has a chance to compete. Not a rookie, but (running back) Knile Davis is a guy that I'm excited is around here. He's a veteran and played a lot in the league but I'm excited about what he's shown."

Tight end Jesse James: "He's a big guy and he did nothing but make progress. The most encouraging thing with Jesse was he went through a rough patch last year and he rebounded. He didn't go in the tank, so to speak. He kept battling and working hard on the practice field and he got some opportunities. He ended up helping us down the stretch.

"The more you're here as a skill-position player with a quarterback the better you're going to get as long as you're working hard and doing what you're supposed to do because you're developing chemistry. I think there is and has been some chemistry developing between (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) and (James)."

Managing running back Le'Veon Bell's touches: "We'll have all those discussions. His injuries have been kind of oddball-type things, even the (groin). He's a guy that gets stronger every game. He does not want to come out of the game. But he's a year older and we gotta make sure we cover all that, which we will and do as a staff."

The value of minicamp for the offense: "We have a long way to go but this is another step for us. There's a different intensity, different length of time you're on the field. This is much more like training camp, minus the pads, obviously. This is the next step. We're bringing back a lot of guys that have done a lot of good things for us. I would expect us to continue to grow as a group."

The expectations for the offense: "I'm really excited about this group. The only thing is we do have a long way to go. We have to get to Latrobe, get the pads on, make it through that healthy and have developed some physicality, because we're not able to work on that right now, and then we can talk more."

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