Ben impressing teammates

PITTSBURGH - It's easier to stop Ben Roethlisberger on the field than off it, where interviews turn into mob seminars on the art of motorcycle maintenance.

That doesn't mean Roethlisberger's easy to stop on the field. His teammates are raving about his progress.

"He's more of a student," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "He's always asking questions. He and I are starting to get on the same page. He's letting the coverage dictate what he's going to do."

An example at Tuesday's practice: Rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden moved up in Ward's face for some press coverage. Roethlisberger saw it. Ward saw that Roethlisberger saw it. And both players executed a fade pass for a 20-yard gain.

"Last year we didn't talk about things," Ward said. "If I can see the same coverage he can see, then we should be clicking on all cylinders. He's done a great job of that this camp.

"Last year we left a lot of plays on the field for whatever reason. We had some open guys but just couldn't get them the ball for whatever reason. Now, he's starting to see the open guys and we're starting to make more plays. It's kind of great."

Ward likes the versatility he, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El provide as receivers. All three can play all three positions. Rookie Fred Gibson provides Roethlisberger with a tall split end who has the speed to get open deep. Gibson might be Plaxico Burress without the star mentality.

"For whatever reason, Plax and I weren't on the same page," Ward said. "It's kind of hard for me to teach a guy who comes in as a first-rounder and has such high expectations. With Fred it's a case of a young kid who's hungry and eager to get in there and play."

Roethlisberger also has a big tight end at his disposal. The 6-foot-5 Heath Miller was rusty at mini-camp but showed more agility last week at Organized Team Activities. Yesterday, Miller looked great. On one apparent pass to the Ward-Randle El tandem on the right side, Roethlisberger instead wheeled to hit a wide open Miller on the left sideline. Miller ran close to 40 yards before the free safety chased him down. It was an impressive play on both ends of the pass.

"I like how he stands in the pocket," cornerback Deshea Townsend said of Roethlisberger. "We all know he can run, but over these past couple camps he's been standing there releasing it into blitzes. He's definitely picking up our blitzes a lot better than he did last year, so that can only carry over to the field."

"He's quicker," Randle El said. "The ball's out a little quicker. He's not unsure. He's more sure now than he had been at this point last year, and that will continue to progress because he knows it's just him. Last year he was battling Tommy (Maddox)."

Will that security allow Roethlisberger to take chances?

"Well, he took some chances last year," Randle El said. "But, yeah, he's going to step his game up and push the envelope when it comes to making plays."

The confidence, the quickness, the improvement in reading defenses, it's all obvious. Now, if someone could just stop him as he's coming off the field …

"You kind of have to expect that, don't you?" Randle El said with a laugh. "That's part of the swagger, the confidence he has in himself. He showed his presence last year and it's impressive right now."

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