Roethlisberger puts trust in ex-Arena league QB
By Scott Brown, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 2, 2010
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The job that starts next week and runs through the first part of October will be among the most scrutinized in Pittsburgh, if somewhat after the fact, ranking just below that of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
George Whitfield Jr. is well aware of the pressure that comes with his latest endeavor. But Whitfield looks at working with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the professional opportunity of a lifetime.
"I cannot wait for this four-week run to see how sharp I can get him by the time week five rolls around," Whitfield said Wednesday. "He'll be ready."
Whitfield, who is scheduled to fly into Pittsburgh from San Diego Tuesday, has emerged as an unlikely x-factor in the Steelers' 2010 season. He will oversee Roethlisberger's football training while the Steelers' most important player serves a likely four-game suspension.
Aside from Roethlisberger, Whitfield is the person most responsible for making sure the two-time Super Bowl winner is ready to play when he returns to the field in October.
Whitfield, 32, trains quarterback for a living — he is the owner of Whitfield Athletix in San Diego — and he first worked with Roethlisberger right after the 2009 season in Southern California.
Of their first day together, Whitfield recalled: "I don't know how many guys like to throw in the rain, but he did it in a steady, driving rain for two hours. To him, it was much more than just going through drills. He wanted to know: 'What did you notice here? What do you have in mind for this drill?' I learned how dedicated this guy is."
Whitfield apparently made a similar impression on Roethlisberger.
Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, called him last week to tell Whitfield he was on the short list of quarterbacks coaches Roethlisberger hoped to work with while he is suspended.
Tollner, who originally hooked the two up, called Whitfield a couple of days ago to ask how he felt about spending five weeks or so in Pittsburgh.
"We did talk to (Roethlisberger) about being out in Southern California, but he said right away: 'I don't want to go anywhere. I want to be right here in the city of Pittsburgh, near my teammates,' " Whitfield said.
Roethlisberger and Whitfield are both Ohioans, and the latter finished his college career at Tiffin in Toledo, less than half an hour from where Roethlisberger grew up.
Whitfield played quarterback for a couple of seasons in the Arena Football League after coaching for a year at the University of Iowa.
After calling it a playing career, he moved to San Diego and landed an internship with the Chargers. Whitfield got to work closely with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, and the internship started him on the path that led to Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger met with Tomlin Tuesday, and the Steelers have advised Roethlisberger on what he needs to do from a conditioning standpoint while he is suspended.
But after Friday, Roethlisberger is not allowed any contact with the Steelers coaches, and Whitfield will step into that void.
"I'm just going to provide the fire and technical support and then go right after it," Whitfield said. "It's his pursuit. It's his mechanics. It's his season."
Whitfield said he will work closely with Roethlisberger on the latter's footwork while dropping back to pass. He will also run at Roethlisberger during various drills to simulate the two-time Super Bowl winner throwing from different angles in a game because of a pass rush.
"I want to make sure I've got my cleats on, and that I'm throwing, doing drills to stay as sharp as I can without having a pass rush," Roethlisberger said.
Whitfield said he will be mindful not to wear out Roethlisberger. He said he will try to replicate the amount of work Roethlisberger normally gets early in the season during their practice sessions.
"Everything has to be efficient and well thought out and well executed," Whitfield said. "There's a challenge, but it's doable."
How well Roethlisberger plays when he returns to the Steelers will ultimately determine how successful Whitfield is in his most high-profile job to date.
"I know (Roethlisberger is) looking at this as an incredible opportunity to put these guys in the Super Bowl and overcome a lot of this stuff," Whitfield said. "I hate to call him Ben 2.0, but that's what I've been told, and I can't wait to get on the ground with him."