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Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger getting more freedom in Haley's offense

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' offensive line blocks for Ben Roethlisberger against the Redskins on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tightend David Johnson returns to practice, Wednesday, August 21, 2013, on the South Side.

One of Ben Roethlisberger's major frustrations last season was offensive coordinator Todd Haley's refusal to allow him to change plays at the line of scrimmage, according to former backup quarterback Charlie Batch.

Batch, now the co-host on the Steelers' radio network pregame show, said Haley came in intending to re-establish the run. Haley's former team, the Chiefs, led the NFL in rushing in 2010. Batch paraphrased Roethlisberger by saying, “ ‘Yeah, you have to run the football, but sometimes there are eight people in the box. Let me turn around and throw this football.' By not being allowed that flexibility, like Bruce Arians allowed him to have to change at the line of scrimmage to a pass, that frustrated him a little bit.”

Batch said during his first broadcast that it is evident Roethlisberger is being given that flexibility now. Haley implemented numerous tweaks and changes in the offense, some at the players' request.

Johnson returns

It took more than a year, but tight end David Johnson returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right knee in the 2012 preseason opener. The Steelers aren't speculating when he can return, but if it is early in the season, he would provide size (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) and blocking skills at a position where the Steelers are going with the relatively undersized David Paulson (6-4, 245). Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller is out indefinitely with a knee injury similar to Johnson's. “I'm glad today I was able to get out there and make it through practice,” Johnson said.

The Steelers likely will begin the regular season with three injured players on their 53-man roster: tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth and running back Le'Veon Bell.

A player must stay out for six weeks if he begins the season on the physically unable to perform list, and the Steelers are hopeful that Miller (knee) will be ready to practice sometime within that time frame.

They could avoid putting Spaeth on the season-ending injured reserve list by designating him for return as they did with injured guard David DeCastro last season. However, only one such player can be designated, and the Steelers might want to reserve that spot for a regular should one be injured early in the season.

Officials at practice

Displeased with all of the offensive line's penalties against Washington, coach Mike Tomlin, as he promised, brought in officials for practice Wednesday so players would know immediately what infractions they were committing.

They were penalized 95 yards in Monday's preseason game against the Redskins. The much-flagged offensive line is having success run blocking but has struggled in pass protection.

“You've got to practice it,” backup Kelvin Beachum said. “We know it's the preseason; we've been going against our defense for the better part of a month. We'll get it fixed. If we control the things we can control, we'll be all right.”

Jones learning all he can from veterans

He is in the NFL, but rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones still doesn't consider himself to be a pro football player.

He said that can come only with accruing some regular season experience — not all of it on the field.

“I sit around these guys all day, and I'm just watching them, not just as football players but as men,” Jones said. “On and off the field I'm just trying to learn. They're pros, and they know what it takes to be pros. Myself, I'm trying to find my role and become a pro player.

“I'm in the pros, but you've got to take steps to become a pro.”

Extended time for starters?

Safety Ryan Clark is speculating the starters might not play just the first half but also a series into the third quarter against the Chiefs on Saturday. That would allow the players to implement any changes that the coordinators will make at halftime.

Bettis gets new job

Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is joining ESPN as an NFL analyst on its NFL Live and SportsCenter shows.

Bettis, the NFL's No. 6 all-time rusher, worked as an NBC Sunday night analyst for several seasons after retiring from the Steelers following their 2005 Super Bowl-winning season.

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