Roethlisberger admits 'frustration' with Haley's system last season
Ben Roethlisberger described publicly for the first time the uneasiness he and his teammates felt a year ago when new coordinator Todd Haley tossed out the offense they knew so well, handed them a playbook filled with unfamiliar terminology and told them to learn it.
“He brought it in and (said) 'Here's my stuff, here's what we're going to do.' So it was hard for us to say, 'Hey, we were pretty doggone good last year, what were we 12-4?'” Roethlisberger said Saturday on the first practice day of Steelers training camp. “We would say, 'Oh, we know this play, it's the same thing we had, but it's called completely different.' So why not call it the same thing? So there was a lot of frustration with that.”
That resentment eased during a four-game midseason winning streak in which Roethlisberger mostly ran the no-huddle offense he prefers, calling only the plays that Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders knew well. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, he went back to using the names the plays were called under former coordinator Bruce Arians.
“The guys like it in the huddle because it's up tempo, everybody's getting involved, everyone is catching passes and we were pretty successful with it — that's probably the frustration (with the lack of it),” Roethlisberger said.
But when Roethlisberger struggled after returning from a three-game injury layoff, he criticized the play calling — specifically the lack of the no-huddle and the absence of second-half pass plays for tight end Heath Miller — following a difficult loss in Dallas.
Still, Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review in a one-on-one interview that any perceived rift between him and Haley, the former Chiefs head coach, was fictional.
“People blew up the hatred thing or the butting heads, there was none of that,” Roethlisberger said. “It was like any coordinator, quarterback and head coach, there's always going to be issues. I had them with BA (Bruce Arians) and coach Whis (Ken Whisenhunt). I think they got blown up.”
Roethlisberger said he has a good working relationship with Haley, who met during the offseason with the offensive coaches and players, including center Maurkice Pouncey, Miller and Roethlisberger and retooled the playbook to restore the vernacular that was familiar to them.
“I think it was big of Todd to say, ‘OK, let's change it to things you are more comfortable with,'” Roethlisberger said. “Not everything went to a change, but it was nice we all got together and sat down and said, ‘What makes sense to you, what makes sense to you?'”
Now, the man who holds most of the Steelers career passing records said, “We've come up with what I think is the best of all of us, the best of all of the offense and what we can do together. I think our relationship has grown, mine and Todd's and Todd's has grown with every player and every coach. You have to evolve and learn, and that's why I'm excited about this year, because I think it's is going to be good.”
Feeling stronger than he ever has — he credits a new workout regimen that includes bicycle riding and kayaking — Roethlisberger is convinced that revamped offense will be fast-paced and consistently productive, even without the fleet-afoot Wallace, who signed with Miami, and the absence of a large number of home run-type deep throws.
Roethlisberger referred to the offense last season as being “dink and dunk,” which some perceived to be a criticism.
“To me, I'd like to be an up tempo team — not necessarily no-huddle — and let's score as many points as we can,” said Roethlisberger, who is entering his 10th season. “I think the days of winning 6-3 are pretty farfetched any more, and I know our defense is good and can stop people. ... And he (Haley) is all for it, he said that in the meetings (Friday) that we need to be an offense that scores, scores a lot of points.”
There are numerous issues on offense — Wallace' departure, the lack of a feature back, the uncertainty over when Miller will return from a serious knee injury — but Roethlisberger said there are no problems with his own right knee, which required cleanup-type arthroscopic surgery last month. On Friday, coach Mike Tomlin said his quarterback had some lingering discomfort.
“I'm doing things without discomfort, without pain,” Roethlisberger said. “Things I would normally have pain issues with, I don't anymore.”
After missing three critical games last season with an uncommon right shoulder/upper chest injury, Roethlisberger began his offseason workouts sooner than before.
“I emphasized upper body strength, making sure my shoulder was strong. The doctor (orthopedist Jim Bradley) was looking at my shoulder the other day and saying, ‘Ben, you're stronger than I've seen probably since you've been here. You look good,'” Roethlisberger said. “That was important to me because I wanted to make sure that I didn't have those issues. I want to be able to play at a high level all year and help this team.”
With Roethlisberger the most tenured member of the offense, he also decided he must become more of a leader — and that includes speaking out when necessary.
He has talked about being such a leader in the past, but he appears to be embracing the role much more than before.
“I pulled a couple of the offensive guys aside this offseason and said, 'Hey, listen, I would like to take more of a leadership role of the whole team, and I'd like you guys to be more of the offensive leaders,” Roethlisberger said, referring to Miller and Pouncey. “I'll still do my part, but I'd like you guys to speak up in meetings and to bring things up. I think those are the perfect guys for it. I want want them to take more ownership of the offense because I think it's as much their offense as mine.”
And it's an offense that's no longer confusing to the man who runs it.
“I firmly believe my best is yet to come. I do,” Roethlisberger said. “People may laugh, and that's fine and people can say what they want, whatever. In my opinion I feel like I have some really good football left in me.”