LATROBE – After an offseason in which he changed his workouts and had knee surgery, Ben Roethlisberger was happy to make it through training camp feeling better than ever.
The question now for the Steelers quarterback is whether that great feeling will translate into a great season.
“My arm feels a lot stronger,” said Roethlisberger, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “I can get the ball down the field better to the receivers, and Coach (Mike) Tomlin had said the same thing. To me, that is what I thought was most important. My arm got strong and stayed strong.”
Roethlisberger did a lot of kayaking and other nontypical workouts in the offseason in an effort to strengthen his throwing shoulder, which was injured last November. Roethlisberger missed three games with the injury and didn’t have the same zip on his passes when he returned.
“With the injury last year, the shoulder and chest area, I wanted to get my arm strength up and just get stronger,” Roethlisberger said. “I lifted weights, I was out kayaking and just doing different things like that, which are untraditional. Receivers and coaches have said the velocity on my passes has gone up, so I guess that is a good thing.”
It was a welcome sign for Tomlin, who is counting on his veteran quarterback more than ever as an offensive catalyst in 2013.
“He’s doing a nice job,” Tomlin said. “But that’s what we expect from him, and I know that’s what he expects from himself.”
Roethlisberger didn’t exactly get to show off his improved arm strength in the preseason opener, an 18-13 loss to the Giants.
The majority of his passes were made within five yards of the line of scrimmage, the lone exception being a 20-yard attempt to Antonio Brown in the end zone during which the receiver failed to get both feet in bounds.
“That was intentional,” Roethlisberger said. “We really wanted to do that against a 4-3 type defense. We wanted to work on our screen games and our short, underneath-type passes. The one to Antonio was more of a conversion route; he wasn’t supposed to go that deep, and it was a conversion-type of thing. It was more game plan than anything.”
It’s a different style than Roethlisberger has been accustomed to. His career yards per pass attempt average is 7.9 yards – still in the top 10 in league history – despite averaging a career-low 7.3 yards per attempt last season, his first season with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Roethlisberger insists the Steelers won’t strictly rely on short, safe passes exclusively in 2013, despite the fact Pittsburgh lost speedy wideout Mike Wallace in the offseason.
The Steelers hope the addition of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell will help open up some play-action passes downfield, something Roethlisberger excelled at early in his career.
“That is the hope. Running the ball sets up the play action,” he said. “That is the game of football. There are so many things that set up other things, and that is why it is a game of chess between coordinators, usually, and then the players have to execute it. Whether it is coverages or blitzes, you have to be prepared to makes adjustments on the run and try to fool the other team.”
He’ll get more of a chance to see how those things work against the Redskins in Washington Monday, when the Steelers play their second preseason game.
After playing two possessions each in the opener, the first-team offense and defense will get a longer look against the Redskins.
That could include Isaac Redman and Bell at running back. The two are listed as co-starters, but both were injured in Thursday’s practice. They returned Friday and made it through Saturday’s practice without pads – the team’s final at Saint Vincent College this summer – without issue.
“The depth chart displays our intentions in regards to that,” said Tomlin about the running back situation. “If those guys are available to play, then the depth chart will display our intended repetitions. If they aren’t, we will make adjustments.”
Odds and end zones
Tomlin said he plans to use LaRod Stephens-Howling as the primary kickoff returner and rookie Markus Wheaton on punts against the Redskins. … Second-year lineman Kelvin Beachum will be used at center. Beachum started five games at right tackle in 2012. … Punters Drew Butler and Brian Moorman, listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart, will split time, with each player taking all of the kicks in a half. … Cornerback Cortez Allen, who had minor knee surgery three weeks ago, returned to practice Saturday on a limited basis. ... Linebacker Jason Worilds was fined $15,750 for a late hit on Giants quarterback David Carr last week.