Hall of Famer
Roethlisberger upbeat, optimistic on everything including relationship with Haley
Buoyed by a return to health, a better relationship with his coach and what he sees in his teammates, Ben Roethlisberger predicted good things for himself and the Steelers in 2013.
"This offense is like a new toy," Roethlisberger said in an interview Saturday with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's like I'm opening this present and I can't wait to see what's going to come out of this thing with all these guys and this offense.
"I'm genuinely excited for this year."
He and Todd Haley, his offensive coordinator, had a somewhat frosty relationship during their first season together in 2012. That's changed and developed into one the quarterback called "actually good."
"And I'm not just saying that," Roethlisberger said before the Steelers took the field for their first practice of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. "Last year obviously had its growing pains; it is what it is. And it's more than just him and I. It was him and other coaches, him and other players, but obviously people are going to talk about the quarterback and the coordinator more.
"But there was no hatred, none of that stuff people made it out to be. It was nothing like that. We had our times when we butted heads, but I butted heads with [former coordinators Bruce Arians and Ken Whisenhunt].
"So it was nothing big. But I think so far this year it's been really good. We've been able to talk, to communicate and I see a relationship really kind of coming together."
Roethlisberger said during spring practices that Haley was open to input from him and other players, and to even agree to re-name some plays as they were named under Arians. He said the effort to improve the relationship came from all sides.
"I've put forth effort. I know he's put forth an effort. I know other coaches and players have put forth an effort just to kind of all come together.
"He was kind of the outcast last year. We pretty much had everybody still there and one new guy comes in and it's not like a new tight end or a new center, it was a new boss. So everyone has put the work in to become better with each other and it's shown. I think it will show as we progress through practices.
"That's another reason I'm excited because I see the evolution of the relationship of our offense."
The quarterback and Haley's offense did not fare so well after a good start and a 6-3 record last season. Roethlisberger left the ninth game with injuries to his right shoulder and ribs, missed three games and the offense and the Steelers season fell apart as they lost five of their final seven games to finish 8-8.
At 31 and entering his 10th season, however, the man who holds most of the franchise's records for quarterbacks, sees better days ahead.
"I feel like this year could be one of my best," Roethlisberger said.
He reiterated that his shoulder and ribs have long healed, and said his right knee, which underwent minor surgery to clean out some cartilage, feels fine, although he did not want to dispute Mike Tomlin's assessment Friday that he was feeling "discomfort." He did not run with his teammates during the annual run test on the first day of camp because he was told not to by a trainer, Roethlisberger said.
"I feel great. I'm ready to rock and roll. I can't wait for practice. I don't think I'll be restricted at all."
Even though the Steelers lost some key players such as wide receiver Mike Wallace and halfback Rashard Mendenhall, Roethlisberger is upbeat -- about himself, his team's prospects, his offense and his reformulated offensive line. The Steelers did not try to re-sign tackle Max Starks and released guard Willie Colon. They plan to start relatively young players at both tackles, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, and one at guard, David DeCastro.
"If they can stay healthy," Roethlisberger said, "I think that can be one of the best groups we've had in a long time. I really do. I've seen more cohesiveness among these guys right now than I have in a long time."
Many, including club president Art Rooney II, would like to see Roethlisberger stay healthy, too. He missed those three games last season, missed one in 2011 with an ankle sprain that hindered him in a few others and has played only one 16-game season in his nine years.
"It bothers me, not because of what people say, it bothers me because I want to play," Roethlisberger said. "I hate missing games. I probably could have and should have missed more games throughout my career. We play a very violent sport. Knock on wood, I feel I've been lucky to not have a, quote, real serious injury.
"To miss four or five here and there, that's pretty fortunate if you ask me, compared to ACL, knees, elbows ... I know I play the game a little different than most. I know I play a physical style and that's what comes with it. But I think as long as you feel healthy and are able to bounce back -- as you get older, you just naturally have to be in better shape when you come to camp and be ready to go."
And he says he is in better shape. His weight's down, he says his physique is better and he's concentrated on building more upper-body strength, including kayaking as one method of doing so.
"I pushed myself to be better. I want to be better, a better player. Last year, I was playing well [before the injuries]. I feel like this year could be one of my best. Obviously there are a lot of factors, injuries and all that, you have to stay healthy, the line has to stay healthy.
"I honestly felt I was getting better. I still am. There will be a time obviously you can't get better because you get older but I don't think that's time for me yet."
That became obvious when, while promoting September's game against the Minnesota Vikings in London, Roethlisberger repeated an old goal of wanting to win more Super Bowls than any quarterback, ever.
"I've been saying that since Day One. ... It was ridiculous when I said it as a rookie, and it was probably ridiculous to win two, and I've been to three of them. I've been blessed. I may never get to another one, but my goal is still to get three more.
"I don't want to say the window is closing, because I still feel good, I feel right in my prime, so I feel I have some years left to do it and staying healthy is the key."
Roethlisberger admits ‘frustration’ with Haley’s system last season
By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013
On why he changed his offseason workouts: “Things like (bicycling and kayaking) are untraditional when you're 23 or 24 and supposed to be in the weight room. To me, those things are just as important, and I'm getting just as good of a workout or better.”
On former teammate Hines Ward saying the Steelers had locker room issues last season: “It's easy to look from the outside and find criticism for something you don't know about any more. ... I felt like all that locker room stuff got blown out of proportion. A lot of things are said when you have a bad year or are disappointing and things happen. That's OK, it's over with, and we've moved on.”
On the Ravens being favored in the AFC North: “It's fine with me. We're lucky to play in a division with the world champs. We get to play them twice. They are the champs, and they should be the favorites.”
On questions about whether there are enough playmakers on offense:
“I hope everybody out there in the real world has questions all year for us because we'll get answers. We'll get answers and we'll let everybody know if we have enough offense. I have all the confidence in the world in what we have here.”
On having goals:
“A lot, in my mind. I set goals for myself, I've set goals since Day 1 when I was a rookie. Every year I set goals, I have overall for my career goals and I have season goals. In my world, I don't know if I'll ever be satisfied, I'd probably extend them a little more. To me, I have a lot left to accomplish.”
On not being able to go out in public as he did recently during a promotional trip to London:
“It doesn't bother me. It worries my wife more because we can't do normal things and (we must) worry about everything. I've been doing it for 10 years now and I understand it and it's OK.”
Ben Roethlisberger described publicly for the first time the uneasiness he and his teammates felt a year ago when new coordinator Todd Haley tossed out the offense they knew so well, handed them a playbook filled with unfamiliar terminology and told them to learn it.
“He brought it in and (said) 'Here's my stuff, here's what we're going to do.' So it was hard for us to say, 'Hey, we were pretty doggone good last year, what were we 12-4?'” Roethlisberger said Saturday on the first practice day of Steelers training camp. “We would say, 'Oh, we know this play, it's the same thing we had, but it's called completely different.' So why not call it the same thing? So there was a lot of frustration with that.”
That resentment eased during a four-game midseason winning streak in which Roethlisberger mostly ran the no-huddle offense he prefers, calling only the plays that Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders knew well. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, he went back to using the names the plays were called under former coordinator Bruce Arians.
“The guys like it in the huddle because it's up tempo, everybody's getting involved, everyone is catching passes and we were pretty successful with it — that's probably the frustration (with the lack of it),” Roethlisberger said.
But when Roethlisberger struggled after returning from a three-game injury layoff, he criticized the play calling — specifically the lack of the no-huddle and the absence of second-half pass plays for tight end Heath Miller — following a difficult loss in Dallas.
Still, Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review in a one-on-one interview that any perceived rift between him and Haley, the former Chiefs head coach, was fictional.
“People blew up the hatred thing or the butting heads, there was none of that,” Roethlisberger said. “It was like any coordinator, quarterback and head coach, there's always going to be issues. I had them with BA (Bruce Arians) and coach Whis (Ken Whisenhunt). I think they got blown up.”
Roethlisberger said he has a good working relationship with Haley, who met during the offseason with the offensive coaches and players, including center Maurkice Pouncey, Miller and Roethlisberger and retooled the playbook to restore the vernacular that was familiar to them.
“I think it was big of Todd to say, ‘OK, let's change it to things you are more comfortable with,'” Roethlisberger said. “Not everything went to a change, but it was nice we all got together and sat down and said, ‘What makes sense to you, what makes sense to you?'”
Now, the man who holds most of the Steelers career passing records said, “We've come up with what I think is the best of all of us, the best of all of the offense and what we can do together. I think our relationship has grown, mine and Todd's and Todd's has grown with every player and every coach. You have to evolve and learn, and that's why I'm excited about this year, because I think it's is going to be good.”
Feeling stronger than he ever has — he credits a new workout regimen that includes bicycle riding and kayaking — Roethlisberger is convinced that revamped offense will be fast-paced and consistently productive, even without the fleet-afoot Wallace, who signed with Miami, and the absence of a large number of home run-type deep throws.
Roethlisberger referred to the offense last season as being “dink and dunk,” which some perceived to be a criticism.
“To me, I'd like to be an up tempo team — not necessarily no-huddle — and let's score as many points as we can,” said Roethlisberger, who is entering his 10th season. “I think the days of winning 6-3 are pretty farfetched any more, and I know our defense is good and can stop people. ... And he (Haley) is all for it, he said that in the meetings (Friday) that we need to be an offense that scores, scores a lot of points.”
There are numerous issues on offense — Wallace' departure, the lack of a feature back, the uncertainty over when Miller will return from a serious knee injury — but Roethlisberger said there are no problems with his own right knee, which required cleanup-type arthroscopic surgery last month. On Friday, coach Mike Tomlin said his quarterback had some lingering discomfort.
“I'm doing things without discomfort, without pain,” Roethlisberger said. “Things I would normally have pain issues with, I don't anymore.”
After missing three critical games last season with an uncommon right shoulder/upper chest injury, Roethlisberger began his offseason workouts sooner than before.
“I emphasized upper body strength, making sure my shoulder was strong. The doctor (orthopedist Jim Bradley) was looking at my shoulder the other day and saying, ‘Ben, you're stronger than I've seen probably since you've been here. You look good,'” Roethlisberger said. “That was important to me because I wanted to make sure that I didn't have those issues. I want to be able to play at a high level all year and help this team.”
With Roethlisberger the most tenured member of the offense, he also decided he must become more of a leader — and that includes speaking out when necessary.
He has talked about being such a leader in the past, but he appears to be embracing the role much more than before.
“I pulled a couple of the offensive guys aside this offseason and said, 'Hey, listen, I would like to take more of a leadership role of the whole team, and I'd like you guys to be more of the offensive leaders,” Roethlisberger said, referring to Miller and Pouncey. “I'll still do my part, but I'd like you guys to speak up in meetings and to bring things up. I think those are the perfect guys for it. I want want them to take more ownership of the offense because I think it's as much their offense as mine.”
And it's an offense that's no longer confusing to the man who runs it.
“I firmly believe my best is yet to come. I do,” Roethlisberger said. “People may laugh, and that's fine and people can say what they want, whatever. In my opinion I feel like I have some really good football left in me.”