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Steelers' Big Ben, Cards' Whisenhunt hold back

Ben Roethlisberger took the diplomatic route. Ken Whisenhunt lavished praise on the quarterback he coached for three seasons as the Steelers' offensive coordinator.

Neither came within two football fields of saying anything incendiary or controversial about the relationship they had when they were with the Steelers.

It has come across that their final year together was strained, in no small part because of comments Roethlisberger has made since Whisenhunt left Pittsburgh to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

It is a hot topic of discussion this week because the Steelers play the Cardinals at 4 p.m. Sunday.

"We had a good relationship and we haven't really spoken since (Whisenhunt left)," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "No hard feelings either way, I think."

His response to the first question he was asked by reporters who loitered near his locker seemed programmed. It suggested that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin yesterday morning talked to Roethlisberger about more than playing within himself (i.e. not trying to do too much to stick it to Whisenhunt).

Tomlin also might have cautioned Roethlisberger to watch what he said regarding Whisenhunt, lest it become another rallying point for the Cardinals, who have a handful of ex-Steeler coaches and players.

"I'm not going to bash anything about the last year," Roethlisberger said, "or any of the years, because we won a Super Bowl and were very successful."

Roethlisberger is off to the kind of start that suggests last season, when he threw the most interceptions (23) in the NFL, was an aberration.

He has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and thrown for six touchdowns while being intercepted just once in leading the Steelers to the brink of their first 4-0 start since 1979.

"He looks confident in the pocket and certainly has made some plays moving out of the pocket, throwing down the field," Whisenhunt said, "a lot of the things that make Ben the quarterback that he is. He's playing with confidence."

At the NFL Combine in February, Whisenhunt said he didn't sense that sort of confidence from Roethlisberger in the pocket last season.

He attributed it to the trauma Roethlisberger went through before the season.

Roethlisberger took umbrage at what Whisenhunt said. Asked yesterday why it upset him, Roethlisberger said he "didn't feel it was accurate."

Whisenhunt said that in no way was he taking a shot at Roethlisberger, adding that he simply answered a question he had been asked with candor.

"I've always admired Ben from the way he's been able to fight back from injury," Whisenhunt said. "He's one of the toughest players I've ever been around because of some of the stuff I've seen him go through.

"I understand that Ben maybe thought I was saying some things I maybe shouldn't have said about him, and I understand that and certainly respect that."

Whisenhunt said he is happy that Roethlisberger seems to have rebounded from a disastrous season in 2006.

"I'm glad to see him have that success," Whisenhunt said. "I'm hoping he doesn't have great success against us."

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