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Kovacevic: Ben not grasping whole picture

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 11:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum block for Ben Roethlisberger against the Bears on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watches as his team loses a first-quarter fumble against the Bears on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Brief and to the Point …

A few days ago, Ben Roethlisberger publicly lamented that the Steelers' wide receivers weren't doing enough to drive through defenders, adding, “They aren't the biggest guys in the world.”

This was fair.

Two days ago on his weekly radio show, Roethlisberger appeared to take a swipe at rehabbing rookie Le'Veon Bell: “You can't get a read on him. One day he's practicing, one day he's not. One day he's going hard, one day he's not. I wish I could tell you if he were a guy like Heath Miller, who you knew was busting his butt every day to get back there.”

Roethlisberger downplayed that Wednesday (you should have seen his eyes bug as he said “gosh,” surprised that anyone could interpret his comment as criticism) but he shouldn't have. This, too, was fair.

Later in that same session, Roethlisberger challenged his beleaguered offensive line to be more aggressive: “Be tough. Be nasty.”

Eminently fair. Mike Adams, in particular, is getting manhandled.

All of it, really, is just what you'd want from a leader. And if Roethlisberger isn't that for this offense, with Maurkice Pouncey gone, no one will be.

But then there was this, when Roethlisberger was asked if he needs to change anything about his ball security after two interceptions and three fumbles against the Bears: “No. I think they were good plays. I looked at them. I watched them again. They're going to happen. I've just to make sure I hold onto it.”

No. That's neither fair nor accurate. What he needs to do is get rid of those balls, all five of which came under pressure.

Accountability goes across the board.

• Doubting Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon flies in the face of a lot. But Clint Hurdle's clear intent to recreate the April-July version of the Pirates' back-end bullpen guys is fraught with peril. Grilli's stuff isn't close to peak form, and Melancon's blown his past three leads.

This isn't the time for labels or massaging egos.

Tony Watson has been the National League's third-best reliever per his 0.89 walks and hits per inning pitched, the most vital stat in his profession. He trails only the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez.

He also hasn't given up a run in 20 appearances, a walk in 25 appearances.

Is this even a debate?

• Olli Maatta won't break camp with the Penguins. Their top prospect is only 19, and Ray Shero wants to have defensemen spend at least a year in Wilkes-Barre.

But for a glimpse of what this terrific two-way talent will be doing before long, let me highlight one barely noteworthy play observed Saturday from the press box perch at Consol:

Maatta carries out of the Penguins' zone with some speed but no breakout targets. Harry Zolnierczyk bursts ahead up the left wing, but two Blue Jackets block that path.

If the pass gets through …

“Everyone loves it,” Maatta recalled. “But I can't turn the puck over there.”

Did I mention he's 19?

He then flips the puck on his backhand fairly high, and it lands at the right side of the Columbus zone. No one's there.

Until Zolnierczyk swoops in, his momentum having given him the best shot to come across first.

No way Maatta meant that. Just no way.

“Yeah, I kind of thought Harry Z had a chance,” he said.

Shero noticed it, too: “That's one of those plays the good ones make.”

• Please excuse Jamie Dixon. He's been in meetings with Paul Chryst all week to learn more about how to hold Duke to 55.

• Pitt's two fabulous freshmen, Tyler Boyd and James Conner, have fans justifiably excited about the long-term prospects for the offense. And there's more to it: Chryst often jokes about the 19 freshmen he's been forced to use — 12 true, seven redshirts — but the program has everything to gain from looking beyond this deeply flawed overall roster.

• Those mercifully dwindling Paterno wackos were claiming triumph over the NCAA when Mark Emmert announced a lessening of the sanctions on Penn State. They viewed it as vindication, as the NCAA backtracking.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

The current administration and current coach, Bill O'Brien, have gone above and beyond in creating safeguards to avoid another Jerry Sandusky tragedy, and all the governing body did was acknowledge that by lightening the punishment on the current football program through an increase in scholarships.

Not one syllable was altered to all the punishments rightly applied to Joe Paterno and company.

• Total candor here: Every major milestone the Pirates have achieved in this remarkable summer has hit me like a Gerrit Cole fastball. No matter all the evidence at hand, no matter the buildup, it's felt like I didn't sense any of it coming — not 82, not the playoff berth — until it was right between the eyes.

Good luck even trying to envision what's to come.

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