Q&A: Hines Ward

PITTSBURGH -- Jerome Bettis returned to practice Tuesday. He was mobbed afterwards by reporters, leaving the middle of the field wide open for a one-on-one interview with Hines Ward. The veteran talked about his contract renegotiation, the maturation of Ben Roethlisberger, Plaxico Burress, and the young defenders trying to cover him.

First of all, is there any news on the contract?
I haven't heard anything.

Do you sense trouble on that front?
No. I'm just out here working. Everything will work itself out. I'm a firm believer in that.

What's the difference between Ben (Roethlisberger) this year and last year at this time?
He's more of a student. Last year, so many things were going on with winning and we really didn't have time to reflect from game to game because we were putting in a different game plan. But 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. Today, I got press coverage. We both recognized it and we faded. It's fun when you're on the same page. I can make plays for him.

What's different from last year?
Well, we talked about it. Last year we didn't talk about things. When you're starting to see stuff on the field, and 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. I know we lost Plax (Burress), but when you've got Antwaan (Randle El), guys who are really versatile, can move around, it's really hard for teams to really double-team a person. Ced (Wilson), myself, Antwaan, we can play X, Z and Y (positions). We're all interchangeable. So we're all going to get our fair shots, and this year teams are going to load up and try to stop the run, so we're going to get our opportunities. It's a matter of going out and making plays.

What about your boy Freddie Gibson? Is he still overwhelmed?
He's coming. He's coming around. Last week things were getting tied in and he was getting cris-crossed, but he's really worked hard. After practice he goes home and actually does some studying. I want to teach him as much knowledge as I can, but I can only teach the guy so much. His athletic ability, his gift, has to come in and make some plays, but mentally I want to make sure I do everything to help him out so he's doing less thinking and just reacting on the field.

He looks like he wants to listen to you. Isn't that a good situation for you to mould him?
Just being from Georgia, we're family. And I told him if he needs anything, if he needs to borrow my car, anything, it's not a problem. I've been through his situation: high expectations in college, didn't really get drafted where I wanted, had to go out and make a name for myself. He's kind of following in my footsteps. When I came out, Andre Hastings was the guy who I looked up to. He did so many great things at Georgia, got drafted in the third round by the Steelers, and he went on to excel. He was a pretty good wideout here. I remember calling Andre, asking him to send me his tapes. He was a great slot receiver.

Don't veterans appreciate young guys who show interest?
Oh, yeah. You don't want a kid who comes in and thinks he knows too much. For whatever reason, Plax and I weren't on the same page. 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. I just want him to do less thinking because you can see him thinking too much and really not being the Fred Gibson he can be.

That's not going to happen overnight is it?
No, it's not. We know that. I told him we all make mistakes, but when you're making the same mistakes over and over that's a problem because you're not studying your plays. But if you make a mistake here and there, it's going to happen. I still make them. It's going to happen. Nobody's perfect. Just don't make the same mistakes.

The secondary has a lot of new faces. What are you seeing as a wide receiver?
A lot of hungry guys eager to go out and make a name for themselves. They're unproven but at some point you're going to get an opportunity and you have to seize it, and this is the opportunity for a lot of young guys - Ike (Taylor), Ricardo (Colclough), Chris Hope, Troy (Polamalu), all of them. They're eager; they're hungry; they're willing to learn. Sometimes that's more of a scary thing because when you've got a guy trying to prove something he's going to come out and play above what everyone expects him to play.

Is anyone catching your eye in the secondary?
Um, yeah. Ike's having a good camp. The rookie (Bryant McFadden), he's having a pretty good camp. He's a strong, physical guy. He still hasn't seen all the routes and stuff like that, but you see him getting better. The whole group is just gaining confidence. You can see it.

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