PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The 2013 NFL season is only a couple of weeks away.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent the last couple of weeks working hard at training camp in the hopes of getting back to the playoffs after last year's 8-8 record had them on the outside looking in.
One of the guys who will play a major role in how far the Steelers go this season is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben sat down with KDKA-TV's Bob Pompeani to talk about life as a new dad and about where the team is as the regular season draws near.
Pompeani started the interview by asking if having a child will make him a better quarterback.
"It brings a different perspective to life. It definitely teaches you discipline and patience, so maybe it will translate to being a better football player," Roethlisberger said.
With the amount of head injuries piling up in the game of football over the past few years, some are questioning whether or not to let their kids get involved with the sport. Roethlisberger said he would let his son play football, but he has one restriction.
"If he wants to, absolutely, he can do whatever he chooses to do - within reason obviously. But my only stipulation that I will hold back will be that you can't play until fifth grade. That's when I played. I think kids are playing full contact way too early now. First, second, third and they're hitting in helmets and that stuff. That's the only thing I'll say - no until the fifth grade. Flag football before, fine, but no full contact until at least the fifth grade," Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers will be heading over to London to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29 at Wembley Stadium. Roethlisberger was recently over in London and several pictures of him posing with the landmark Big Ben have surfaced.
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"It was crazy. It was the first I've ever seen it. Being called that for so long now and actually standing in front of it and getting all the pictures and all the people around started taking pictures. It was a little surreal, but it was neat," Roethlisberger said.
Last year, much was made about a supposed rift between Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley and Roethlisberger. However, Big Ben said that there were no issues and their relationship has grown over the past year.
"I think it's great. I don't think there was ever an issue. People made such a big deal about our relationship and we just kind of laughed about it all last year because we felt like it was non-existent – the issues were non-existent. But, this year, I feel like we've known each other one more year. He knows the other coaches one more year, other players. So, the relationship has evolved and I think that will translate into us being better on offense," Roethlisberger said.
A couple of reports quoted Roethlisberger as saying he was frustrated last season. Roethlisberger said his frustration came with not playing up to the level he expects from himself.
"Frustration can come from a lot of things. For me, it was from not playing well from being frustrated and whether it was interceptions or not playing up to my expectations. I think that any good player, any player that has a competitive bone in their bodies is going to be frustrated at times if they don't feel like they're playing as well as they should," Roethlisberger said.
There are some new faces on offense with the departure of wide receiver Mike Wallace, but Roethlisberger is excited about the weapons he does have at his disposal this year.
"I think we've got so many weapons. We've got a lot of great receivers, tight ends, running backs and we've added some new guys. I'm excited about having those weapons and 'toys' out there, but that will be fun just getting them the ball. That's what I have to always remember – they're better playmakers than I am, so get them the ball as fast as I can and let them do the rest," Roethlisberger said.
There were some criticisms of the Steelers' offense employing a "dink and dunk" strategy last season and that the team didn't look comfortable running it.
"I don't think it's negative at all and that's why when last year, when it got blown up that 'Ben says this offense is dink and dunk,' Todd and I laughed because that's a good thing. You're dinking and dunking all the way down the field. It means you're controlling the ball, your possessing it for long periods of time, which gives your defense a rest. Around here, Steeler football has always been about controlling the ball whether that's running the ball or whatever it is. So, dinking and dunking is just moving the ball methodically down the field, taking care of it, taking up time and hopefully scoring when you get in the red zone. So, it's not a negative like people made it out to be," Roethlisberger said.
With Wallace out of the mix, Plaxico Burress out for the year and Heath Miller potentially out for the start of the season, can the offense be better than it was a year ago?
"I can only take care of myself. If I play better that's how we can be better because you can't replace those guys. They're irreplaceable. You just have new guys who come in and be themselves. If you talk to [Antonio Brown] or [Emmanuel Sanders] or [Jerricho Cotchery] or [Markus Wheaton] or any of those guys, they're not trying to be Mike Wallace. They're just going to try and be the best them that they can be. We'll just have to see when Week 1 comes, who's out there. Hopefully Heath's out there ready to go. If not, we'll just have to play as hard as we can until he's back," Roethlisberger said.
As for Miller, he's been working hard in camp, but Roethlisberger isn't going to put any expectations on when he could return.
"Heath got frustrated with me when I told everybody early on that he'd be ready to go. So, I don't want to put any expectations out there. I will say that he's working as hard as ever and he looks great to me," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger was asked to put on his commissioner's hat for a moment to see what changes he would make to the current training camp/preseason schedule and format. Big Ben said that camp is good as is, but that he'd cut down the number of preseason games teams played.
"I think they've done a good job. Camp's changed so much in my 10 years of being here, where we used to go hard two-a-days every day, to now where you have walkthroughs in the morning and then practice in the afternoon. And you have to get one day off a week, so camp has gotten pretty good. I would just get rid of preseason games. If anything, maybe do one. The nice thing about preseason games is it gives guys that are on the bubble a chance to make the team. In that sense, you want to give those guys an opportunity. So, whether it's one or two games, that's great. But, you do run the risk of your starters and key guys getting hurt. So, if it was me, I'd limit it to one or two games and let the coaches choose who they want to play," Roethlisberger said.
Pompeani asked Big Ben to complete the following sentence and Roethlisberger had a little fun with the response:
Pompeani: The Steelers will win the division if…
Roethlisberger: We beat all the other teams.
Pompeani: How will you do that?
Roethlisberger: Score more points than they did.
After sharing a laugh, Roethlisberger offered some insight into what will make the team successful this season.
"We need to play Steeler football. We can count on our defense doing what they've done every year and that's being a top-rated defense. Offensively, we joke about it, but we need to score points in the red zone out of the red zone and really limit the punting and kicking. That's always my goal going in is I want to tell the punters, 'Listen, sit back and watch the show and [Shaun Suisham], you can come in and kick extra points. That's it.' That's always a goal as a quarterback going in because you want to convert every third down and score every time you get in the red zone," Roethlisberger said.
While the Steelers finished 8-8 last season, five of their losses came by three points. A bounce here or there could have turned any of those games around and their season could have been very different. To Big Ben, it doesn't matter how much you lose by. A loss is still a loss in the end.
"A loss is a loss to me. I don't care how much you lose by. You lose by one point and it still a loss and it still hurts just as bad. So, we look at it as a loss, not it could have been this way or it could have been that way because there is an element of luck involved this game. The ball needs to bounce your way, but how could we have not made it be close? How could we have scored more points? How could we have not let them score as many points? Whatever it is, that's what we need to evaluate and figure out how can we change it so it doesn't happen again?" Roethlisberger said.
As he is entering the latter stages of his career, Big Ben is taking on the veteran mentality by taking some of the younger players under his wing. Does he like his newfound role of coach and teacher?
"Yes and yes. It is a natural progression for me getting older here being one of the older guys, becoming a team leader not just an offensive leader. We have a lot of young guys, [got to] help them out. It helps me too because the more I can review with the young guys things that they need to do, it helps refresh my memory and getting me going and keeping me young out there and learning in this process. I like it and enjoy it and I hope that I can just continue to evolve in that role," Roethlisberger said.
Coaches and players have noticed that Roethlisberger came into camp much more in shape than in previous years. Big Ben said biking and kayaking have helped him relax while getting a workout in and that it's helped his arm strength get back to where he wants it.
"I really wanted to emphasize this year coming in in better shape. I started a lot earlier in the offseason, just strengthening my shoulder from the injuries I've had and just trying to get my arm back to where I want it to be arm strength wise- ball velocity. So, I said I'm not just going to go to the weight room and push a lot of weights around because that's not who I am. That's not my position. I don't need to be a big bulky guy. So, it's a lot of band work, a lot of high repetition. Got a lot of biking and kayaking just because to me, it's peaceful – a place of serenity – because I'm out in the ocean or I'm out in a lake or whatever it is. It's just being in nature, which I love and just relaxing, yet I'm getting a workout in at the same time. And I feel like it's really done wonders for my upper body and arm strength because wide receivers, coaches, even Coach LeBeau said, 'Ben I think it's the best I've seen you play. Your arm strength, everything looks better than it ever has been.' So, to me that means things have worked out pretty good," Roethlisberger said.
Every player who has been around as long as Roethlisberger has been asked the following question: How long can you keep playing at this level?
For Roethlisberger, he said he'll play as long as he's able.
"I feel good, I really do. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. My knee, for the first time in three years, hasn't ached every time I drop back to pass. So, in that sense, I feel like I can go for a while longer. But, as we know in this sport, you're one play away," Roethlisberger said.
"So, I'm going to live and play every game, every play like it could be my last because you don't know - like I've done the last couple of years. Some people say, 'Get down. Don't take the hit.' Well, I can't. I live for this play. If it's my last play, then I'm going to give it everything I have. So, I'm going to play this game until Mr. Rooney says I can't or the Good Lord says I can't. So, we'll see when that is."
Part of being a player in the NFL is competing against former teammates. In this case, James Harrison signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Roethlisberger said it will be weird to see him in black and orange, but that Harrison helped him become a better player in the NFL.
"It's tough to see any of your former teammates that you were close with that have been here – Mike Wallace in a Dolphins uniform - but James, a guy that's been here a long time with me, a guy I have so much respect for. When I knew we didn't sign him back and he signed with the Bengals I sent him a long message just to let him know how much he meant to me and my career. We played against each other in college. He made me a better player and I know that sounds crazy because he's on defense, but just watching him and learning from him and learning how linebackers are supposed to be. He's something special and obviously, he will be deeply missed here especially being on my team I'll miss that. It won't be the same," Roethlisberger said.
"He's got to do what's best for him and he did what's best for him and his family, but it's going to be tough to see him over there. It really is."
The Steelers open up the regular season on Sept. 8 at home against the Tennessee Titans.
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