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Starkey: No-huddle twist for Ben?

| Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The Steelers aren't about to revamp their offense -- they've won 31 of their past 38 games -- but they'll surely add some wrinkles to keep defensive coordinators off their trail.

If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets his wish, one such wrinkle will be sprinkling in the kind of no-huddle attack that colleagues Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning run on a full-time basis. Roethlisberger's experience, combined with the infusion of speed around him, makes this a realistic and potentially explosive possibility, if only for an occasional series.

It seems like a logical next frontier for the 24-year-old Roethlisberger. He'd relish the challenge of calling plays at the line of scrimmage.

In an interview last week with The Trib's Mike Prisuta, Roethlisberger was asked to identify ways in which he's looking to expand his game.

"Hopefully ... having enough confidence in myself, and coach (Bill Cowher) having it also, to go no-huddle, to be able to call no-huddle plays," he said. "If we can get to that point, where we're able to do the stuff that Cincinnati does, then we can be pretty effective."

Wide receiver Hines Ward would love to participate in such an experiment.

"Of course I'm up for it," Ward said Monday. "When we get into a lull and things aren't going our way, we could pull out our no-huddle just to light a spark under our tails. But, I don't see us opening up the game with a no-huddle, because that's not who we are."

The Steelers already include a no-huddle package in their weekly repertoire, and not just for hurry-up situations.

"We've always had it in," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "In fact, we've done it a few times with Tommy (Maddox). We haven't done it so much with Ben, just because it hasn't been the time. But we're kind of gravitating towards that. The thing is, when he says he wants to do that, that's the first sign we're ready to do it. He's ready to take that next step and do a little bit more, and it's exciting to see."

The beauty of the Steelers offense in the playoffs was that it was able to "open up" without abandoning its allegiance to the run. The idea was to throw to get a lead and run to shorten the game. In the AFC Championship, Roethlisberger dropped back on 15 of the first 23 snaps.

Ultimately, though, the Steelers ran the ball 58 percent of the time in the postseason. That was a slight increase on the regular season and just below their astounding 61 percent mark of 2004.

That figure might dip to the mid- or even low-50s this season, but no more than that, so long as they are winning with frequency.

Even though they love to run, the Steelers hardly are a predictable team. analyst Pat Kirwan, a former NFL assistant coach and personnel evaluator, had this to say in a recent column: "The Steelers are often perceived as a very conservative, 'old-fashioned' offense, but coordinator Ken Whisenhunt stresses opponents with personnel as well as any coach in the league. Pittsburgh used 11 offensive packages last season to mix-and-match and find ways to create advantages."

In other words, they were a very tough team to defend. A sprinkling of the no-huddle could make them that much tougher -- and keep them a step ahead of the pack.

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