Whipple: Don't squeeze the QB

LATROBE – Here's Mark Whipple's plan for handling Ben Roethlisberger during his star pupil's second training camp:

No plan.

Hey, the Steelers' quarterback coach is 13-0 with that plan. Who's to quibble?

"We just want to carry over what we worked on in the spring and build off of that," said Whipple, who was also a rookie in the NFL last year.

"He just keeps progressing and getting better and more comfortable and seeing things and just trying to improve every day. It's the same thing we did last year, really. It's the same thing I've always done in coaching."

Whipple had been a Division I-AA national championship coach at the University of Massachusetts. Roethlisberger, of course, set NFL rookie records for consecutive wins, completion percentage and passer rating.

The difference in the coach-pupil relationship this year is the pupil has become a mega-star. Whipple was asked if that has changed the dynamic.

"No. He's a great kid," he said. "Seriously, he hasn't changed at all. He enjoys playing. He's a competitor. That hasn't changed; that's what makes him a winner. No, that hasn't changed anything. I think there's more trust between us, maybe, than when we first met – like in any kind of relationship. He knows I've got his back."

Whipple said the next step for Roethlisberger this season is to better understand the personnel on both sides of the field and then isolate the right match-up. But, will that force Roethlisberger to take a small step back before taking a big step forward?

"No. I don't think so. At least that's not the plan," Whipple said with a laugh. "I think it comes back down to keep improving. And if you work hard and study with good habits, which he does, you will improve. It's no guarantee to success but that's the foundation: hard work. And that's what he's always done. He likes to compete. It's why he fits in well with the Steelers."

Whipple and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt challenge Roethlisberger by continually adding new plays. Roethlisberger has responded well so far.

"There's also the timing part with the receivers, knowing who you've got and again knowing who's out there defensively, which at this point last year he was never doing," Whipple said. "Now he's doing it, which is going to make him a better player and us a better team."

SCARE OR OVERREACTION?

Roethlisberger was kicked in the left calf during Thursday's practice. He didn't miss any reps, but had the leg bandaged, prompting a near panic among the media. TV stations interrupted its evening news to report that Roethlisberger had what he termed "a charley horse."

Bill Cowher was asked about the "injury" and said "I think he got kneed or something. It was alright." Roethlisberger also had his right hand heavily bandaged. He shrugged it off. Cowher was asked if he should shrug it off, too.

"I guess," Cowher said. "I don't ask."

DUCE DOWN AGAIN

Duce Staley missed his second consecutive practice with inflammation in his knee. He had it drained yesterday and will miss Friday afternoon's practice as well. "It's nothing," said Cowher. "It's precautionary."

Defensive end Travis Kirschke sat out with an inflamed lower back and isn't expected to return until early next week.

POKING A TIGER

A Pittsburgh newspaper sent a reporter all the way to Georgetown, Kentucky, to poke a stick at well known loudmouth Chad Johnson, who of course took the bait and criticized the Steelers' defensive backs.

Said Cowher: "It's nice to know we're on the thoughts of many people's minds. I

'm flattered by that."

BLITZ PICK-UP

The Steelers used a drill that's growing in popularity, not only among media and fans but the coaches, too. Linebackers rush the quarterback – in this case Cowher – and running backs step up to block.

"That's a good drill and it helped us," Cowher said. "Dick even said last year it was the lowest amount of sacks, even pressures, given up by our backs in years past. It's a good competitive drill."

PRACTICE TIMES

The Steelers will practice twice on Friday. The 3-5 p.m. practice, as always, is open to the public. On Saturday, the open practice begins at 12:15 p.m. and will include the popular goal-line drill.


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