By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger, dressed casually in a Pittsburgh Steelers shirt and sweat pants, appeared to be calm and well-prepared, as he addressed the media Monday upon his return to the club after a four-game suspension.
Roethlisberger arrived at the UPMC Sports Complex at noon, had quick workout and spoke with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He spoke for the first time in a month about four hours later.
“It’s good to be back here at the facility, especially with my teammates, getting to see coaches and be around my teammates,” Roethlisberger said in an opening statement. “I’m just excited to get back and get focused on football, focused on this year and trying to get to Dallas (for the Super Bowl).”
The Steelers have a bye this week, but held team meetings Monday and will practice Tuesday through Thursday. The club gets the weekend off before returning to regular game-week activities prior to facing the Cleveland Browns Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger said to not expect a wide-open offense with him at quarterback.
“I’ve been saying for years now that I think we need to be a balanced team,” Roethlisberger said. “So, I’m not trying to throw the ball 60-70 times a game. Obviously, as a quarterback, you would like that. But, if we’re balanced and run and throw and do the things that we need to do effectively, we can be a dangerous football team, especially on offense.
“Those are things that B.A. (Bruce Arians) and I and the rest of the staff and players will communicate in practice. And whatever B.A. calls, we’re going to go with, because he’s a great play-caller and he’s got a great offensive mind.”
Roethlisberger watched the Steelers’ four games on television during his suspension and believes the club has played at a high level with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback.
“I think there’s a lot of great chemistry on this football team right now,” Roethlisberger said. “They’re playing great football, offense, defense and special teams. … Watching the games, I’m not trying to come in here and be anything more than what I am, just trying to be a teammate and do whatever I can to help this team win football games.
“I think they’re off to a great start, so I just want to contribute in any way that I can to help us continue to win football games. … I was sitting there, I was the biggest supporter, their No. 1 fan. Obviously, when Dennis got hurt, you never like to see a guy get injured. But I knew that Charlie would be able to come in and step up and do exactly what he did.”
Roethlisberger was not allowed to work out at the Steelers’ practice facility during his suspension and could not be in contact with any teammates to discuss football matters. That connection with his teammates was among the things he missed most during the banishment and added that he’ll have to grow his fingernails back after watching the Steelers on television.
“I hate being away from football, how much you appreciate meetings and practice and being around the guys, just how hard it was to be away from them, mostly,” Roethlisberger said. “(And) it was hard. It really was, to watch them at home. I was on the edge of my chair, trying to keep busy, watching, standing up, sitting down. So, it was tough, but it was fun watching them win.
“Obviously, I love football, and I missed that more than anything. But to be away from my guys, my brothers, my family, that was one of the hardest parts and that’s what made it coming here (Monday) so great. I think every single one of the guys came up and gave me a big hug. I was just so happy to see them, and I think they were just as happy to see me as well.”
Roethlisberger was suspended in April for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, but Goodell said at the time he would review the player’s behavior over the next few months. Goodell was satisfied that Roethlisberger has followed league guidelines and stayed out of trouble.
Roethlisberger explained how the entire experience has affected him.
“It just makes you appreciate football and being around the guys and things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “So, I’m just going to give it my all and do the best that I can. I think it takes you back to your roots. It doesn’t make you a new person as much as it takes you back to the way you want to be and how you were raised to be.”
Roethlisberger was not voted by his teammates as a captain for the first time in several seasons, but that was OK with him under the circumstances.
“I wasn’t around for the first four games, so it’s something that those guys voted on,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, it’s an awesome honor, to be voted a captain of this team with the rich tradition that it has here at the captain’s position and with the football players in general.
“(But) that’s something you have to earn, so I’m going to come out and give them the best I can. Just because I’m not a captain, it doesn’t mean that you can’t give them all that you’ve got.”
Roethlisberger returns to a Steelers team that went 3-1 and is less than a minute from being undefeated during his absence. So, he trained extremely hard the past month to at least maintain that level of success and possibly improve the club’s offensive performance.
Roethlisberger was especially sharp during training camp and the preseason, but he will have two practice weeks before his first game.
“I worked out a lot, 2-to-2 1/2 hours, longer than if I would have been out here practicing,” Roethlisberger said. “I threw more balls than I would have if I was here. So, I really stayed focused with George (Whitfield, Jr.), my quarterbacks coach, working on footwork, techniques, throwing and things like that.
“I did my (regular) routine, cardio and everything. (But) I want to get out there now and play this week. That’s the hard part. I want to be out there right away, but I guess it’s a good thing to have two weeks of practice. I’m not worried about my arm. My arm is ready.
“The biggest thing is to refresh my mind with the offense and getting timing down with these guys,” Roethlisberger added. “It seems like Mike Wallace has gotten faster, so I have to get used to that again. But I’m just so excited to get out there (Tuesday) and get out on the football field again.”
Roethlisberger said that he had no idea what type of reception he would get Oct. 17 at Heinz Field, but there primarily were positive comments when he engaged the public the past few weeks. Some told him that they couldn’t wait to get him back, while others said just to keep his head up.
But that’s only part of the process for his full return.
“For me, getting back on the field will be the big test,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s what I’m most excited for. I think the people of Pittsburgh and people around the world know that football is my passion, and I want to get out there and show them that.”
Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student following a night of drinking in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar March 5. He was not charged by Georgia authorities.
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the NFL’s personal conduct policy who was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. However, Goodell said in April the policy allows him to impose such a penalty when the league’s integrity and reputation are at stake.
Roethlisberger also is being sued in Nevada by a woman who says he sexually assaulted her there in 2008. No charges were brought in that case, either, and it reportedly did not figure in the NFL’s suspension.