Starkey: Steelers president out of bounds?

| Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012

Oh, to be a fly pattern on the wall when Ben Roethlisberger sits down with Steelers president Art Rooney II to discuss the future of the team's offense.

Will the Steelers adopt the Rooney-n-Shoot?

Will they go back to three Arts and a cloud of dust?

Not that I expect the conversation to turn ugly. I didn't hear any hostility in Roethlisberger's voice when he spoke at the Pro Bowl the other day. He simply expressed a desire to "go up to Mr. Rooney's office" and talk.

That seems reasonable in the wake of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' "retirement" and Rooney's assessment that Roethlisberger needs to "tweak" his game.

It's not like Ben is going up there with a gun. But if I'm him, I'm armed with a couple of game tapes -- the Kansas City win, for example, when he made a dozen miraculous plays merely to stay upright, let alone find a receiver -- and a few pertinent questions.

Such as:

• What are you going to do with the $3.5 million left guard who can't pass block and keeps putting us at 2nd-and-20• How about you tweak that ?

• Who's going to protect the blind side?

This organization's best thinking resulted in Jonathan Scott manning the left-tackle position to start the season. Trai Essex spent time there, for goodness sake. They finally pulled a guy off his couch to take the job and were lucky Max Starks was in such good shape.

What an insane way to protect a $102 million investment.

Second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert might make the switch from right to left, but what's the backup plan with Starks now a free agent coming off knee surgery?

Rooney is right that Roethlisberger, nearing 30, must take less punishment. But it's a delicate balance because no quarterback works better off contact.

Roethlisberger's size and ability to extend plays are what make him unique -- and nobody is going to change his swashbuckling style.

Now, maybe he could slide once in a while and quit making tackles on interceptions. But the "get rid of the ball" mantra is a bit worn. Roethlisberger knows how to play the pocket rhythm game. Check the New England tape from Oct. 30.

The most logical way to reduce quarterback hits is to improve the line.

Meanwhile, the coordinator shakeup represents an interesting litmus test for Rooney, whose nine-year tenure has been a smashing success. He has not yet explained his role in the Arians ouster, dancing around it with such dexterity that Hines Ward should lend him the Mirror Ball Trophy for a month.

In an interview on the team's website, Rooney was asked the following: "Bruce Arians retired, and there are reports out there that you are the guy who retired him. What's your take on that?"

Replied the Art-ful dodger: "I think the questions of how we got here are not really relevant. The key now is that Mike (Tomlin, the head coach, remember him?) has begun the search for our next coordinator, and he'll do a good job of finding the right person."

The "right person" should be aware that the team president apparently has definite ideas of what he'd like to see when the Steelers break the huddle.

Presumably, he will convey those ideas to Big Ben.

Maybe this is normal. Maybe Tom Brady is breaking down game tape with Patriots owner Robert Kraft even as we speak. Maybe Eli Manning and Ann Mara are crafting the Giants' game plan for the Super Bowl.

Or maybe meddling Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is proof that owners should own, coaches should coach, and players should play.

On the other hand, an owner who knows when to pick his spots can buoy a franchise. Which is precisely what Rooney's father, Dan, did when it came time for the Steelers to make their first-round pick in 2004.

As Dan Rooney recounted in his 2007 autobiography, "Our people seemed to have focused on Shawn Andrews, a big offensive tackle from Arkansas, as our likely number-one pick.

"But when our turn came, I couldn't bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect the way we had passed on Dan Marino in 1983, so I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger."

Pretty good move.

We'll know soon enough if the son has the father's magic touch when it comes to tweaking the offense.

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