Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger opens up about no-huddle, contract, Ray Rice

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley were embroiled in a deep discussion Saturday. The Steelers offensive coordinator talked about doing it one way, and the quarterback said he would not do it at all.

“He talked to me about water skiing,” Roethlisberger said. “He said he went barefoot skiing and is still feeling the pain.”

Roethlisberger will not test his feet or knees by water skiing, but he knows all about the growing pains of working with a new offensive coordinator. Things did not go smoothly between them their first season in 2012, but that relationship advanced so far since the middle of last season that the quarterback said he now calls Haley a friend.

“Very rarely in life in general do you meet someone and hit it off and you’re best friends right away,” Roethlisberger said Saturday in a lengthy interview. “There’s always a feeling-out period, especially when you have people who are guarded because of their profession, just who we are.

“But I think we are friends. Obviously, work is always first, but I think we’re getting along great.”

The Steelers offense should benefit from it.

At 32, Roethlisberger feels like a kid again. He has coaches who finally seem to agree to take the no-huddle offense from the back burner and make it a more important part of their game plan. He worked with a personal trainer and a nutritionist this year for the first time and has his weight down and endurance up. And he concentrated on strengthening his right arm.

“My arm is stronger than it’s been in my career, I believe. Even in [spring] practices and minicamp, the receivers said, ‘Ben, that ball is getting to us a lot quicker, with a lot more spin on it, it feels real good.’ That should translate into better play.”

Why now with all the offseason work?

“I felt like the time is right. That youth wears off. You start getting to 32, it’s time. As your body deteriorates, your natural talents start to go a little bit. You have to bring in physical working out, building, taking protein and doing extra stuff.

“I want this year to be my best year and, if I have to do extra things, I’m going to do it.”

Last season turned into a pretty good year for Roethlisberger, but one he could not savor because the Steelers went 2-6 in the first half and finished a second consecutive 8-8. But that 6-2 second half may have set the table for 2014, especially when it comes to running the no-huddle.

Previous coaches such as Bruce Arians talked a good game when it came to the no-huddle, but, for one reason or another, would not commit to it. Haley did that in the second half of last season, and it produced all kinds of benefits, including many fewer sacks of Roethlisberger, a better run game and more victories.

Roethlisberger spoke to his offensive coaches and head coach Mike Tomlin about it after the season.

“The no-huddle was always in, but it was always sitting back here on the back burner — keep it warm for Week 5 or 6 or whenever we needed it, if we needed it.

“I said, ‘Guys, the way the season ended last year, to me, our best offense is the no-huddle. I still understand we have to run the ball, we have to bring in three tight ends, you have to have short yardage. But, when we were at our best, we were in the no-huddle.

“This needs to be an integral part of our offense, maybe not our base offense, but it needs to be something that’s not just sitting on the back burner.”

The coaches bought it, then implemented it in spring practices. Roethlisberger was made for the no-huddle and finally, they’re going to let him run it more often than in the two-minute drill or when they get behind.

It also had the benefit of keeping their quarterback upright. He was sacked just seven times in the final seven games of 2013, the safest seven-game stretch of his career.

“When you’re in the no-huddle and converting, the defense has to back down, they can’t call their crazy stuff. That’s to your advantage as an offense. You see the Denver Broncos, the [New England] Patriots and these guys run this stuff, and it’s so successful because it slows defenses down.”

Roethlisberger touched on a number of other topics Saturday. Among them:

• He reacted to the Friday statement by Steelers president Art Rooney II that the Steelers would not negotiate a contract extension for him this year, but next. Traditionally, the Steelers have signed their starting quarterback to an extension while he had two years left on his current deal as Roethlisberger does now.

“As I put my faith and trust in them, when the time is right, we’ll get it done. Now, I can just concentrate on football.”

• On what he said in a text to agent Ryan Tollner after the Steelers drafted linebacker Ryan Shazier and not a wide receiver in the first round in May.

“I asked who he was. Honestly, I never heard of him, Ryan Shazier.”

He said people wrongly assumed he was unhappy with the pick.

“It was more, ‘Give me info on this guy.’ Ryan knows about every player, pretty much. ‘What do you know?’ If he can help this team — which I’ve seen so far I think he can — I’m not at all [upset]. Right now, I think he’s going to be a big help for us. I can’t wait until we put the pads on, that will be a key, but he looks pretty good.”

• On the two-game suspension NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave Baltimore halfback Ray Rice for knocking out his girlfriend and dragging her unconscious from an elevator, all caught on tape and duly charged by the authorities:

“I read a lot of the comments about how people are saying for drugs or marijuana you get four games and for this you don’t. We all know the league has its reasons for things, and they’re the say-all. As long as they don’t cut it down to one, I guess we won’t see him.”

The Steelers play at Baltimore in the second game of the regular season.

Ed Bouchette: and Twitter @EdBouchette.

First Published July 26, 2014 12:00 AM

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