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Starkey: Ben: Fans love the run

| Thursday, May 31, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger listens to offensive coordinator Todd Haley during OTAs on the South Side May 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during OTAs on the South Side May 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger listens to offensive coordinator Todd Haley during OTAs on the South Side May 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers running back Jonathan Dawyer lines up behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during OTAs on the South Side May 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Ben Roethlisberger is throwing some nice passes at Steelers OTAs. He's also throwing some darts, though it can be difficult to decipher their targets. And their significance.

Take our cryptic exchange, for example.

It didn't last long, perhaps because Ben had to resume the arduous process of getting a new playbook shoved down his throat. But it might have contained a large clue about coordinator Todd Haley's “Rosetta Stone” offense.

Or not.

I began by acknowledging the obvious: Roethlisberger understandably was not pleased with the coordinator change. So is it now just a matter of getting on board?

“Yeah, absolutely,” Ben said. “You have no choice.”

Then came a dart.

“And like I said, every day's getting a little bit better, and we're learning -- and we'll be running the ball a lot this year, so fans should be happy.”

Me: “Will you guys be running a lot?”

Him: “I think so.”

Me: “Is that the plan?”

Him: “That's the way it seems ... I know the fans want it, so it looks like they'll be getting their wish.”

Hmmm. Do fans really want that?

My impression is that there has always been a small but vocal minority who harbor a quaint notion of smash-mouth Steelers football. They dream of the next Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis — Franco Bettis? — barreling behind a 250-pound fullback and “Iron” Maurkice Pouncey 47 times a game.

Those folks seem to forget that the Steelers largely passed their way to Super Bowl wins as far back as 1978 and '79. They also overlook the ensuing quarter-century championship drought and the fact that it ended only when the Steelers finally found a replacement for Terry Bradshaw.

The team's past four Super Bowl MVPs have been a quarterback (Bradshaw twice) and two receivers (Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward), you know, not running backs or pulling guards.

I have to believe most fans just want more touchdowns. The major failing of the Arians era was mediocre red-zone play, and as a consequence, not enough end-zone play.

Time of possession was not a problem. The Steelers were top five the past four years.

Sure, they should improve the running game, which was middle-of-the pack in carries and efficiency last season. But does anybody really care how they score, so long as they score more?

This isn't the first time Roethlisberger has made reference to certain “influences” wanting the Steelers to run more. He mentioned it a few years ago, wondering if those influences forced him and Bruce Arians to pass less than they would have liked.

Ben is an interesting study.

Anyway, the obvious follow-up question: Given that the Steelers have a star quarterback and mad talent at receiver, one has to believe they'll wing it around at some point, no?

“Who knows?” Ben said. “We'll see.”

Yes. Yes we will.

Look, whether you agree with their moves or not, it isn't hard to figure out the Steelers' rationale in changing systems and drafting a bunch of linemen. Haley, coach Mike Tomlin, GM Kevin Colbert and team owner Art Rooney II are smart men. They want to keep their franchise quarterback in one piece as he enters decade No. 4 on the planet.

Quicker passes combined with a better running game theoretically would propel Roethlisberger toward a simpler, safer game. But be sure of this: He still will improvise.

Remember, this is a man who said he wants to hear Frank Sinatra's “My Way” accompany his Hall of Fame induction.

So I knew the answer before I asked: Will he alter his style in an effort to stay healthy?

“No,” Ben said. “I'm just going to play the way I know how.”

And what if that still includes drawing 'em up in the sand? Will he get rebuked on the sidelines after one of those?

“You might see more of it, because I don't know what everyone's doing on every play,” Roethlisberger said. “It might be like my rookie year, where I find one guy, and if he's not open, I start scrambling.

“So who knows? We'll see.”

Yes. Yes we will.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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