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Steelers veterans don't want young players getting comfortable

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 5:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks back at the scoreboard after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by the Bears' Major Wright in the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.

A winless football team isn't the place to get comfortable.

That was the message sent by the Steelers' veterans to their younger players when they took away their locker room recreation privileges, including access to the shuffleboard deck and the ping pong and pool tables, according to Ben Roethlisberger.

“We wanted to get that across to the guys, they can't just take that for granted, just get too comfortable,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday. “We wanted to push the envelope on the comfort.”

During a meeting of those remaining from the 2008 Super Bowl team, the veterans decided that too many players with four years of experience or less weren't being serious enough with their work.

“We wanted to set the tone, the older guys, don't get comfortable. If you're a young guy, a rookie, who isn't playing and isn't practicing, instead of going down and playing pool, come down and get in your (play) book or ask a guy a question or get treatment,” Roethlisberger said on his 93.7 FM radio show. “That's the thing we wanted to make sure the guys understood: It's about football.

“If you're a guy who's not out there and not performing, you need to find a way to get on the field and perform.”

Part of the problem, Roethlisberger said, is that “a lot of these guys come in and they're the man on their (college) teams. ... When you come to an NFL team, you're one of many guys. Your attitude, your mentality needs to be that: I've got to work.”

Roethlisberger, coming off the second-worst home loss of his 10-year career, didn't single out any individuals.

The crackdown, endorsed by coach Mike Tomlin, didn't show any tangible results Sunday as the still-winless Steelers lost to the Bears, 40-23, at Heinz Field. They travel to London to meet the Vikings (0-3) on Sunday as they try to dodge their first 0-4 start in 45 years.

While Roethlisberger doesn't want the Steelers' large contingent of young players getting comfortable, comfort was part of Tomlin's reason for not arriving in London until Friday. The Vikings already are there.

“I value normalcy in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint and from a practice standpoint,” Tomlin said, rather than traveling early to get accustomed to the time difference.

Most players aren't looking forward to the longest road trip in Steelers history but, Roethlisberger said, “Maybe it's just the change we need.”

With his team healthier than it's been in weeks, Tomlin expects rookie running back Le'Veon Bell to make his NFL debut Sunday — and to start. Bell has been out with a Lisfranc mid-foot sprain in his right foot since Aug. 19.

Tomlin said Bell “perked up dramatically” at the end of last week and that he “won't dress him (Bell) to stand on the sideline next to me.”

The Steelers badly need an upgrade in their running game after rushing for 155 yards in their first three games, by far the fewest they're ever had at that stage of a season. They've had a different leading rusher in every game.

Still, Roethlisberger said of 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.”

In other words, a player who's not too comfortable.

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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