Franchise QB Takes The Next Step

Mike Prisuta heard Ben Roethlisberger's chatter everywhere, even before hearing the coaches rave about Ben's emergence as the Steelers' true leader.

Ben Roethlisberger's presence has been as obvious as it has been audible at St. Vincent College.

"He's in a very good place right now," offensive coordinator Todd Haley confirmed.

In the huddle, in the meeting room, even in the cafeteria, where Roethlisberger joked the other day about exiting the pocket on a bootleg just fast enough to say ahead of a hard-charging Steve McLendon, Roethlisberger has been as at ease as he has been involved and in charge.

Apparently, the transformation of Roethlisberger from mere franchise quarterback to franchise quarterback/voice of veteran experience among the QBs agrees with him.

"It's a totally different year and dynamic for him," Haley continued. "Even though he was ‘the guy,' he had a couple elder statesmen in the (quarterback) room that he always showed 100-percent respect to. Now, he's not only ‘the guy,' he's the elder statesman. It's a different dynamic for him which I think he's relishing.

"We're excited about that aspect of it."

Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner had looked ahead to just such a transition for Roethlisberger upon the Steelers drafting of Landry Jones back in April.

That transaction was both the organization's official sign off on Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, and also a message to Big Ben that it was time to take the next step in his development. Roethlisberger has taken that ball and run with it.

He's been heard from daily out on the practice field, talking with not only the other QBs but also the running backs, the tight ends and especially with the wide receivers before, during and after drills, a few of which Roethlisberger has appeared to be running at times.

When something works, it's discussed.

When something doesn't work, it's discussed.

The on-field chatter has been as consistent as the sunshine at St. Vincent.

Roethlisberger's level of engagement in what's been taking place here has been unlike any in his nine previous camps with the Steelers.

"In meeting rooms, individual drills, team drills, you're seeing a lot different side of him than maybe you saw last year," Haley said. "For example, (Thursday) he's supposed to be in the no-huddle for six (plays); he's politicking before practice to get eight. He's excited about what he's doing and what we're doing and continuing to try to get this thing where we need to be.

"I know he's a good thrower. More importantly, the decision-making, handling the no-huddle, handling some of the checks and things like that, he's on top of his game."

It's a step Roethlisberger needed to take and it's a step the Steelers needed Roethlisberger to take.

"It's going to make him have to stay on his game all the time," Haley explained. "When you're getting questions from other people and giving the right answer is paramount to success, you need to have the right answer."

The Steelers didn't have enough of those a season ago, including Roethlisberger, who was intercepted four times during a three-game losing streak in December upon returning from a shoulder injury.

That losing streak wrecked what had been a 7-5 contender.

Roethlisberger has been as motivated as anyone since then to make amends.

And he's practiced and interacted at St. Vincent as if those amends getting made depend on him more than anyone else.

"When he's communicating, when he's into the situation you have his undivided attention," Fichtner said. "He's made it a point to, every practice and every period, he's given his full attention to the drill when he's in and when he's not.

"One of the things, too, is he's healthy. When he's healthy you see a livened communicator, someone who enjoys the drudgery, if you will, of fall camp. He's been great bringing that kind of energy to the (QB) room and on the field.

"That's what you ask in a leader. And he's not just a leader in our group now. He's a leader of our whole offense, maybe a team."

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