Roethlisberger ready to take next step in leadership

July 27, 2013
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery walk to the practice field through a group of youth football players Saturday at Steelers’ training camp in Latrobe. - Associated Press

LATROBE – Ben Roethlisberger feels he has been a good leader for the Steelers’ offense. Now, the quarterback wants to take the next step.

Roethlisberger said Saturday, after the team waded its way through a rain-soaked first practice of training camp at Saint Vincent College, that he doesn’t want to be the leader of only half the team.

“I’m trying to take over; instead of just being an offensive leader, I’m trying to be a leader of the team,” Roethlisberger said. “I think it’s important that we have other guys on offense take control of offensive leadership, like (Maurkice) Pouncey, Heath Miller, guys who are great for the job.

“I’m going to try to step up as a team leader as well.”

That role comes with the territory for a 10-year veteran such as Roethlisberger, but it hasn’t always been a natural progression.

When he broke into the lineup as a rookie in 2004, the Steelers had veterans such as Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca and Hines Ward to provide leadership to the offense. Despite being the quarterback, Roethlisberger didn’t have to be out front as a team leader.

Bettis retired following a Super Bowl win in 2005, Faneca left as a free agent following the 2007 season and Ward retired in 2011.

Now, Roethlisberger, 31, is a grizzled veteran presiding over a team that’s attempting to get younger at several positions.

“It’s fun,” he said, “especially when you get a bunch of young guys in here. We have a bunch of good young kids. It’s fun to help them, the way I was helped by guys like Jerome Bettis.”

This is a role the Steelers have envisioned for their quarterback. Coming off an 8-8 season and missing the playoffs, the Steelers need Roethlisberger to take the next step as a leader. That includes being on the field as much as possible. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Friday that Roethlisberger is still experiencing discomfort after having a knee scoped in the offseason.

Roethlisberger said the knee isn’t an issue.

“I’m getting old,” Roethlisberger said with a smile. “No, there was no discomfort. It was all about coming out here and feeling what it felt like taking a drop, hitting the fifth step and letting it go. It felt good, so I was happy.”

Tomlin was happy with what he saw, though the session was interrupted by rain that forced the Steelers inside for a while and then off the grass fields and onto Saint Vincent’s turf practice field.

“I thought he looked good,” Tomlin said. “I thought everybody looked good. But I’m not rushing to judgment, it’s still football in shorts for us.”

The Steelers will be happy if they can keep their former Pro Bowl quarterback on the field more in 2013 than they didlast year .

Roethlisberger was having perhaps his best season until suffering a shoulder and rib injury in a Nov. 12 game against Kansas City. Roethlisberger returned after three games, but was clearly not as sharp, something the statistics confirm.

Prior to the shoulder injury, Reothlisberger threw for 2,285 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine games, completing 66.1 percent of his passes as the Steelers were off to a 6-3 start.

Pittsburgh went 1-2 in his absence, and when he returned, Reothlisberger’s completion percentage dropped to 56.4 percent as he threw nine touchdowns and four interceptions in four games. The Steelers won only one of those games.

Roethlisberger’s main goal for this training camp?

“Hopefully, I’ll make it out healthy,” he said.

Health is a key issue for Pittsburgh, particularly on offense. Veteran backup Bruce Gradkowski was brought in to be Roethlisberger’s backup, replacing Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. The Steelers also are without leading receiver Mike Wallace, who left in free agency, and Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller, who is still recovering from torn knee ligaments suffered last December.

“We still have a lot of other guys back,” Roethlisberger said. “We have some younger guys we want to get into the mix. It’s going to be fun to see the dynamic of that new group. Obviously, we’re going to miss Mike because you always miss your teammates when they leave. When Heath gets back, we’ll be ready for him. This is a good time because it gives other tight ends a chance to get some work and some reps with me and the other quarterbacks. It’s a good thing, if you will, that Heath is getting better now.”’

Odds and end zones

The Steelers made it through Saturday’s practice without an injury. … The Steelers will hold a second practice in shorts today (3 p.m.) before putting on the pads for the first time Monday. … Several former Steelers are with the team in camp this year serving as coaching interns and scouts. Among them are Willie Parker, Rod Woodson and Aaron Smith. … Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in camp the past two days to watch how Tomlin runs meetings and practices.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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