Roethlisberger slowly adapts to Haley's offense
PITTSBURGH (AP) - In what can be interpreted as another visible manifestation of his aversion to change, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wore a No. 78 jersey for the team's final offseason training activity on Thursday.
Roethlisberger said he eschewed his regular No. 7 "in honor of'' former Steelers left tackle Max Starks, who tore a knee ligament during the January playoff loss in Denver and remains unsigned. It's the second consecutive season Roethlisberger made such a public suggestion to the organization to bring back his teammate and friend.
Such a move is not unlike the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback's subtle references in recent weeks on adapting to a new offense. Roethlisberger has repeatedly made it clear he was apprehensive about the transition from former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians - a close friend - to that of Todd Haley, former coach of the Chiefs.
As he walked off Heinz Field wearing the old and tattered jersey Thursday, Roethlisberger said he and the rest of the offense have "made progress'' digesting the new terminology.
"Every day is a little bit better,'' Roethlisberger said. "I'm not saying I can go out and call a game myself right now, but I understand when he calls a play, I know what's going on for the most part. So we're getting it down to figuring it out.''
Pittsburgh conducted its final non-mandatory offseason workout at its home stadium on Thursday. It was the final of 10 organized team activity sessions over the past three weeks, the others taking place at team headquarters across town.
Mandatory mini-camp - complete with full pads - will run over three days next week.
Roethlisberger said it will be a crucial week in terms of the offensive players assimilating into the new system.
"We've made some strides,'' Roethlisberger said. "They may not be giant strides, but they're strides forward. I don't think we've taken any backward. That's the key - and it's just OTAs right now. It will come next week for mini-camp.''
Just like Haley said the day before, Roethlisberger pointed out that picking up the new verbiage is the most difficult part of adapting to a new offense for the players.
"Same words mean something different,'' Roethlisberger said. "It is football, and football is football. We understand some concepts, but we're putting the old stuff behind us and moving forward.''
Same thing with moving on with some different personnel - Roethlisberger's tribute to Starks aside. The Steelers' top two draft picks, David DeCastro and Mike Adams, have not been at the training activities because of conflicts with their academic schedules at Stanford and Ohio State, respectively.
They will arrive for mini-camp next week, and each will be plugged, initially, onto the first team. Adams will line up at Starks' former position, left tackle. DeCastro will be at right guard.
"I've heard so many great things about both of them,'' Roethlisberger said, "so we'll see what it's like having them in person.''
Roethlisberger was sacked more than any quarterback in the AFC last season (40) and no quarterback in the league has endured more than the 261 sacks he has since 2006. He'll have a revamped line protecting him this season. So, that could help. And Roethlisberger also lauded the work this summer of veteran Willie Colon, who moves from tackle to left guard.
In one way, Roethlisberger's career has come full circle. When he was a rookie in 2004, veteran offensive lineman Alan Faneca famously said wasn't enthused about having a 22-year-old take snaps.
"No, it's not exciting,'' Faneca said the week before Roethlisberger's first career start. "Do you want to go work with some little young kid who is just out of college?''
The Steelers won each of Roethlisberger's 13 regular-season starts that year en route to a 15-1 record.
Months removed from his 30th birthday, Roethlisberger was more diplomatic about the prospect of having a pair of 22-year-olds being the only thing between him and 270-pound pass rushers.
"As long as they do their job, I don't care,'' Roethlisberger said. "I don't care who it is - as long as they put 100 percent into it like the rest of the guys and how I'm going to do and do their job, I'm fine with them.''
NOTES: Linebackers coach Keith Butler said that reserve LB Jason Worilds had offseason wrist surgery and that Pro Bowl LB James Harrison has not been practicing with the team because of knee inflammation.