"He's been tremendous this offseason," said quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. "I think he's really stepped up as a leader and is controlling the offense and he knows what's happening."
Roethlisberger's leadership is evident. Entering his third season, he's been in the middle of it all this spring. No longer a role player on Jerome Bettis's team, Roethlisberger is the hub of activity. Coaches joke with him during the stretch to begin practice, and at the end of practice Roethlisberger runs sprints with his offensive linemen. From top to bottom, the Pittsburgh Steelers are his team.
During practice, Roethlisberger has shown off an explosive arm that's allowed his receivers to run deep with confidence, as opposed to coming back for passes as they had throughout the 2005 stretch drive when Roethlisberger played with a broken right thumb.
"The thumb's healthy and that obviously helps," said Roethlisberger. "My whole body feels good. I feel healthy."
But he won't agree that the ball is exploding off his right hand this spring.
"The ball is getting there better, but I think a lot of it has to do with knowing what guys are doing," he said. "It might just look like it's getting there faster. I don't know; it might be getting there faster, but it might also just be a perception."
The numbers say it's no perception. Roethlisberger has consistently thrown 65 to 70-yard deep passes this spring. That's almost 10 yards further than his deep throws in the second half of last season.
After missing four midseason games with knee injuries, Roethlisberger returned for a Monday night game against Indianapolis and broke his right thumb, and then he aggravated the injury the following week. A painkilling shot would've numbed the fingers on his passing hand, so Roethlisberger played the rest of the season with a protective splint under a glove on his right hand.
"It was excruciating," he said. "I couldn't throw a ball without a glove. I couldn't squeeze it. There were practices where I just had to hold the ball in my palm. It was a broken thumb. Every time I took a snap it hurt."
He wouldn't blame his poor Super Bowl statistics on the injury. After all, Roethlisberger compiled two of his top four passer ratings last season in the AFC playoffs. But in the Super Bowl, Roethlisberger's passer rating of 22.6 was the lowest ever compiled by a winning quarterback, and the worst of Roethlisberger's two-year career.
"A lot of people make a big deal about it, but, to me, we won the game," he said. "Obviously I did things that probably weren't the best, but I also, in my opinion, did some things to help the team a little bit, too.
"The thing is: I always know I can play better. I'll never be satisfied with how I play. I could complete every pass and have a perfect passer rating and I still won't be satisfied. But passer rating is just another statistic. To me it's not a big deal. My goal wasn't to have a better passer rating; I wanted to play a better game."
The statistics haven't hurt his popularity, which has soared since the Super Bowl.
"It's harder to go places," he said. "It's also changed the number of opportunities that I've been presented with and the people that I've been able to meet and know. The other stuff just goes with the territory."
Whipple expects his pupil to step into the next level of quarterback play in 2006. He sees the strong arm, but believes it's simply a result of a veteran who better understands the value of rest. Whipple says his quarterback's improvement has more to do with maturity.
"He's being a consummate pro," Whipple said. "I just think the experience from last season has been definitely a positive one. Except for the confidence, which he's always had, I have not seen anything that would say he's going to take a backseat next year. Some people say, ‘Well he won the Super Bowl as the youngest guy,' but that won't change him.
"Look, Tom Brady's got three (rings); (Joe) Montana's got four; the old Steelers got four. That's motivation enough. Not that he's thinking about the fourth one right now. He hasn't even been thinking about the season, but rather the O.T.As because we spend a lot of time in the offseason coming in and working on some of the things he wanted to get better at, looking at some things on his own.
"He has always been a hard worker. I have not seen anything other than a drive to step his game up another level."