The Todd Haley-Ben Roethlisberger dynamic has been written and talked about at great length.
But the relationship between the Steelers’ offensive coordinator and quarterback has likely never been as strong as it is now at the start of the duo’s third season together.
They understand each other and what each expects of the other.
And Haley also has noticed that Roethlisberger has grown greatly as a leader over the past few years.
With their star quarterback now 32 and a number of veterans who had been counted on heavily for leadership gone, the Steelers are counting on Roethlisberger to fill that role more than at any other time in his previous 10 seasons.
“This is a big year for all of us,” Haley said, referring to the fact the Steelers have missed the playoffs the past two seasons. “I’m really excited about Ben and what he did in the offseason, going all the way back to taking the young receivers out to California (in February) and working with them.
“He’s been in and around the building all the time and talking a lot of football. He’s come to camp in the same frame of mind. He’s taken the receivers and tight ends and is quizzing them on a nightly basis. That’s something that he maybe hadn’t done in the past, but this is a different circumstance. We’ve got some new guys and young guys, and we want to accelerate their growth process. He understands that and he’s on it, which is the best thing that we could have.”
Earlier in the week, former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said his new quarterback, Peyton Manning, in Denver is a better leader than Roethlisberger. But Roethlisberger’s leadership has been on display throughout training camp at Saint Vincent College.
From pulling young receivers aside to talk to them about what he expects on certain routes, to taking star receiver Antonio Brown to the other end of the field during a special teams session – which had traditionally been a time when the players not involved watched and joked around – to working on some red zone passes, Roethlisberger has left no doubt that he’s in charge of this offense.
“He asked me, and I’m a hard worker, so I said yes, of course,” said Brown of doing some extra work with Roethlisberger.
“He just wants to get better, and he wants us to be better.”
There’s also the fact the Steelers are missing the production of Jerricho Cotchery and Sanders, who both left in free agency. The two not only combined for 123 receptions and 1,342 yards, but, more important, 16 of the team’s 28 receiving touchdowns in 2013.
And all of Cotchery’s team-high 10 touchdowns came from the 20-yard line and in.
With those two guys gone, Roethlisberger is counting on Brown, free agent acquisition Lance Moore and second-year players Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown to pick up the slack.
“I see the potential,” Roethlisberger said. “I would like to build off of last year. We ended the season on the real high note offensively. I would like to continue to grow off that and get better.”
The Steelers went 6-2 in the second half of last season and Roethlisberger bought into Haley’s system, which gets the ball out of his hands quickly. He was sacked just 11 times in the second half and threw 16 touchdown passes against just five interceptions.
That, however, was last year, and with so many new players at key positions, it has been critical for Roethlisberger to establish himself as the team’s leader.
“It’s a different year. But this is probably, for him, the most different year that he’s had as far as new faces and different guys around him,” said Haley. “We need our guys up front to keep getting better and stay healthy and have a couple of these receivers continue the process of developing and we’ll have a chance.”
Roethlisberger said it’s just been a continuing process. He’s no longer the wide-eyed, gun-slinging quarterback of his younger days, just one of the stars on veteran-laden teams.
Now, this is his team.
“It’s that time,” Roethlisberger said. “As an older guy, we have a lot of young guys, where it’s Lance (Moore), who doesn’t know the offense – he knows it but is a new guy in the offense – then to Wheaton, Justin Brown, (Derek) Moye – that are now two years in. I’m just trying to do everything I can to make sure we all get on the same page so that we can be the best that we can be.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers had a live-tackling goal-line session to close practice. The defense won the session, 4-3. … Center Maurkice Pouncey and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo got into a brief fight during the goal-line session that was quickly broken up. … Earlier in the practice, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Chris Carter got into a brief fight. … Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey suffered a concussion Wednesday. He has not practiced since. … Nose tackle Steve McLendon and tight end Heath Miller were given the day off, while rookie corner Shaquille Richardson was out with a hamstring injury. … After sitting out Friday night, running backs LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer returned to practice. … The Steelers will hold a practice at 3 p.m. today that is open to the public.