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Kovacevic: Get over it, Ben

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 12:37 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass during the team's OTAs on Tuesday, May 23, 2012 on the South Side. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger during OTAs on the South Side on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger participates in the team's OTAs on Tuesday, May 23, 2012 on the South Side. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger participates in the team's OTAs on Tuesday, 23, 2012 on the South Side. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Ben Roethlisberger's disposition seemed as sunny as the skies over the Steelers' South Side fields Tuesday morning. It was the opening of organized team activities, and he looked as loose and lively in drills - "I've lost a few pounds," he explained - as he did in animatedly engaging his teammates.

Big Ben, bundle of joy.

Right up until someone brought up the playbook.

And even then, through media questioning of how the franchise quarterback is handling new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's wholly new playbook, Roethlisberger at least went with a grin-and-bear-it approach.

I asked if he and Haley are on the same page yet.

"Well, that's the goal," Roethlisberger replied with a broad smile. "I'm going to put in extra work to learn his offense and try to get there."

Does he like what he's seen of the plays so far?

"Yeah, sure," he came back, this time with a slight shrug. "It's kind of early to see too much."

How about this OTA opener?

"It was frustrating. It gets frustrating at times. But we'll keep learning."

Roethlisberger's still smiling all this time, by the way.

Will it be hard to stay in the pocket, as Mike Tomlin and the coaches are urging him?

"Sure, yeah, I mean, whatever. I'm supposed to get rid of the ball, stay in the pocket, not take hits ... so, I guess I better learn where the protections are coming from so I don't get hit."

More laughter.

There was a lot more of this, too. And with each passing answer, it became that much more transparent that Roethlisberger has a long way to go to accept how the Steelers treated him this offseason.

I don't blame him.

First, team president Art Rooney publicly stated that Roethlisberger needed to "tweak" his game, meaning to scramble a lot less and stay healthy.

Think Robert Kraft suggests positional philosophy to Tom Brady?

Next, Rooney and Tomlin fired Bruce Arians, Roethlisberger's offensive coordinator of five years, and stunned pretty much everyone. Including Roethlisberger.

Think the Packers pull that with Aaron Rodgers?

Finally, Tomlin hired Haley, also without Roethlisberger's input, and is implementing a brand new offense.

Think Peyton Manning didn't pack his own playbook when he flew off to Denver?

In modern professional sports, the franchise players do have some say. We don't have to like it. The Steelers don't have to like it. But it's the way things work now, with all the money and leverage elite athletes have.

Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has achieved far too much in Pittsburgh to have been toyed with this way. He has every right to feel disillusioned by how this winter played out.

But he also needs to get over it. Like today.

A week ago, Roethlisberger was asked in a radio interview if the new offense might offer a chance to refresh or refocus. Roethlisberger's response: "Uhhhh ... I think Coach really wants to challenge us. Me, maybe, in particular. I think he felt like I was real comfortable with the old offense, which ... I don't know why that's a bad thing. But I'm not the head coach."

No, Roethlisberger is not. Moreover, he's not about to undo any of this, either with comments like that or even by quietly taking the field with a chip on the shoulder. Tomlin isn't about to cede control to his players. Arians isn't coming back. Haley isn't rewriting his playbook.

Time to cope.

Besides, by all accounts, including that of Roethlisberger himself yesterday, the hardest part of adjusting to Haley's playbook hasn't been the offense. It's been language.

"I don't think it's going to look all that different once we're doing it," Roethlisberger said. "It's just a matter of getting used to the terminology."

Again, time to cope.

Roethlisberger's teammates sound confident he'll do exactly that.

"From a quarterback's perspective, it's tough changing offenses," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "I saw Brett Favre go through it when he got to the Jets. He'd been doing one thing his entire career, and what we were doing, the terminology, it was like a foreign language to him."

That was with Favre arriving late in training camp of 2008.

"It's always easier for a coordinator to just come in and implement their own stuff," Cotchery continued. "I understand it. We all understand it. We just have to embrace the change."

In closing my interview with Roethlisberger, I couldn't help but ask if he'd lost weight primarily to show the Steelers he can still scramble.

"Nope," he replied. "Just trying to stay healthy. I'm getting old."

More laughter.

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