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Roethlisberger reinforces his belief in offensive line, running game

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quaterback Ben Roethlisberger plays agaist the Redskins, Monday, August 19, 2013, at FedEx Field.

While the starting running back in the Steelers' offense might be the last man standing, Ben Roethlisberger often is the first man down.

The NFL's most-sacked quarterback since breaking into the league in 2004 — he's been dropped 344 times, or 110 times more than any other QB — Roethlisberger spent much of Monday night running for his proverbial football life against the Redskins.

The Steelers' offensive line was pushed around by the Redskins' defensive interior, and Roethlisberger was forced repeatedly to scramble, improvise and create on the run — exactly what offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants to avoid during the regular season, much less the preseason.

With his 10th season only two weeks away, Roethlisberger is lacking his top two receivers from last season in Heath Miller and Mike Wallace and is likely to be without his projected starting running back, the injured Le'Veon Bell. The offensive line charged to protect him is the Steelers' youngest and least experienced in more than a half-century.

But asked Thursday to assess his line, Roethlisberger said, “My faith is at an all-time high.”

Roethlisberger also said he believes the Steelers will get through Bell's injury layoff without extreme difficulty because Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Baron Batch already have varying measures of experience.

“You always want to be able to run the ball. It makes you more balanced, and it opens up the play-action pass,” Roethlisberger said. “It's a big key for us. We have guys who have done it before … and we hope to get (Bell) back.”

To Roethlisberger, Wallace's departure will be countered by the addition of rookie wideout Markus Wheaton. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders also will get more chances to make plays downfield.

Call Roethlisberger a believer, even during a time when others are having trouble keeping the faith in a starting offense that has yet to get into the end zone during the preseason games.

He especially believes in the offensive line of Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert, which has struggled in pass protection partly because, Roethlisberger said, most of the two games were spent working on the running game.

“I know who they are and what they bring to the table,” Roethlisberger said. “I see them work in practice and training camp, and I see the continuity they have.”

Despite the constant pressure, Roethlisberger completed 5 of 6 passes for 66 yards against the Redskins with an interception that went for a touchdown. He has looked strong throwing the ball since recovering from his 2012 shoulder and upper-chest injuries, with coach Mike Tomlin saying last week that he's “hosing” the ball.

Roethlisberger and the rest of the starters figure to play at least a half against the Chiefs at Heinz Field on Saturday night, and for the first time in this preseason, they will be given a game plan. The quarterback believes that will help prevent some of the mistakes and offensive line breakdowns.

“We haven't been doing that, and we got caught in situations we weren't quite prepared for,” he said.

Roethlisberger has known for months that he would enter the regular season without Miller, who is rehabilitating from a major late-season knee injury. For now, David Paulson and David Johnson — with a combined 25 NFL catches between them — will be the primary replacements for Miller, who had 71 of his 408 career catches last season.

“Heath is special, one of the best tight ends in the game,” Roethlisberger said. “But it's like when guys leave here, we don't ask (the replacements) to be anything other than what they can be. We're not asking David Paulson and DJ to be Heath. Just be the best they can be and do a good job of filling in until he's ready to come back.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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