By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — In order to increase his strength and endurance, as well as improve his chances to avoid any nagging injuries and arm soreness, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said this spring that he drastically altered his offseason workout regimen.
As the Steelers three-week training camp nears its end at Saint Vincent College, Roethlisberger declared the results a resounding success.
“My arm feels a lot stronger,” Roethlisberger said Friday morning before the regular practice. “It feels good, and I can get the ball down the field with better zip. Even the coaches and the receivers have said the same thing. To me, that’s what was most important, to make sure that my arm stayed strong. It got strong, and it has stayed strong (during training camp).
“Obviously, with the injury last year to my shoulder and chest area, I wanted to (increase) my arm strength and get stronger. So, I did different things. Rather than lifting weights, I was kayaking and things like that, which are untraditional and not really what you would expect. (And) the receivers and coaches have said the velocity on my passes have gone up. So, I guess that’s a good thing.”
Roethlisberger only played a couple series in the preseason opener against the New York Giants, and he wasn’t particularly successful with four completions for 36 yards in eight attempts. But he has been sharp during camp and by most accounts, put forth just one bad practice. That was Monday afternoon.
Despite all the work that a quarterback puts in during camp, much more than the regular season, Roethlisberger said he did not have any physical problems and no issues with his right knee, which needed surgery late in the spring.
“No, it actually feels really good,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, standing on it a lot and running on it can wear you down a little bit, but (I’ve had) no setbacks and nothing negative.”
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, the man who snaps the ball to Roethlisberger on every play, echoed the quarterback’s sentiments. Pouncey added that he is feeling as good as he’s felt since joining the Steelers as a No. 1 pick in 2010.
“He looks great, man, but I always thought he was the best,” Pouncey said. “He’s been sharp, and you can even see it in practice. We laugh about it in the film room on some of the throws that me makes and say: ‘Man, we’ve got this (guy) as our quarterback?’ What else would you want, you know?”
There was a scary moment in Thursday’s practice, as the Steelers’ top two running backs — co-starters Isaac Redman and Le’Veon Bell — were both injured during about a 15-minute span. Roethlisberger certainly wasn’t thrilled to see that happen, but he noted that he wasn’t as upset as he would have been if a couple of his offensive linemen dropped in front of him.
“Well, you never like to see a guy go down, but usually I cringe a little more if the guys in front of me go down more than the guys behind me,” Roethlisberger said. “(But) I know that Red will be fine. I’m not really sure what’s going on with Le’Veon, but I don’t think it’s anything too serious from what I’ve understand.”
Bell also spoke with the media Friday morning and while he did not believe the injury to his left knee was any more serious than it was last week when he originally was injured, some believe it could keep him out of the second preseason game. Bell tried to return to practice late last week after a couple days of rest, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin held him out of the game for precautionary reasons. If Bell can’t get through the final two camp practices, he probably won’t play when the Steelers visit Washington Monday night.
“It’s not too bad, nothing too major,” Bell said. “I don’t know the length or period of time (that I’ll be out), but it’s not as bad as everybody thinks it is.”
Bell added that he can’t remember too much about the play when he was injured, other than he slowed down after a run and got hit as he let up. The hit knocked him off-balance, and he fell awkwardly on his left leg to re-injure it.
“That’s all it was,” Bell said. “I wasn’t surprised that I was hit, but I just kind of let off the gear a little too much. I fell awkwardly. It’s something that usually happens all the time, but I usually don’t fall on it that way.
“It’s not as bad as it was (last week), but it just took me back a little bit. I’ll be able to work through it and hopefully get on the field Monday. I’m going to try my best. I can’t make any promises, but we’re going to see if I can play.”
Bell added that he supported Tomlin, who “is going to do what’s best for me,’ Bell said. “So, I have to stand behind that. (And) I’m going to keep moving forward and try to progress.”
If Bell can’t go, Redman — who had a stinger Thursday during practice — will start and get a few more carries. But one should expect LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch to get increased reps as well. And Roethlisberger always has fullback Will Johnson as an option.
“Will’s a special back, because he can block and he can catch, and he can kind of play a tight end-type role,” Roethlisberger said. “But it’s neat to see his improvement and growth, and we’re excited about being able to use him this year a lot more.”
Roethlisberger also noted that those who were disappointed that he didn’t throw the ball downfield more often in the first preseason game should understand that the game plan was to work on the short-passing and screens against the Giants four-three defense.