His linemen contemplated the subtleties of blocking techniques they use with Ben Roethlisberger in or out of the pocket even as their quarterback found himself surrounded Wednesday.
No guard or tackle needed to throw a block to get Roethlisberger out of trouble because he proved more elusive as a target than the last time he played in Cleveland.
"I miss you guys," Roethlisberger told the swarm of media that included several television networks, one from Canada. "I guess I wasn't anticipating it."
The Steelers' long, national nightmare that has been the Roethlisberger Story enters its final stage as he prepares to start his first regular-season game Sunday at Heinz Field against the Browns.
With him at quarterback, the numbers should increase in the passing game that ranks last in the NFL with an average of 136 yards per game. The boost also could apply to the number of sacks
Roethlisberger has been sacked more than any quarterback over the past four seasons (189 times). His 50 sacks last season just missed Cliff Stoudt's club-record 51 in 1983, likely because Roethlisberger missed playing against Baltimore. Dennis Dixon played that game and was not sacked.
Although one of the biggest, strongest and more mobile quarterbacks in the league, Roethlisberger attracts so many sacks because he holds the ball so long, preferring to wait for an open receiver rather than throw the ball away. It can be a feast-or-famine approach and, because they have won two Super Bowls with him, more feast.
It also means the line must adjust to their new quarterback in the way they approach their pass-blocking after playing the past 23/4 games with Charlie Batch taking the snaps.
"It's like we know where Charlie is," left tackle Max Starks said, laughing. "Where's Ben, though?"
Their assignments do not change with Roethlisberger at quarterback, just the awareness they need.
"It's one of those things, you're blocking, but you also have to feel the defensive lineman, where his movement is," Starks explained. "You know he's looking at the quarterback and he's trying to get there, so his movements will dictate that.
"You're blocking, you're blocking, you kind of feel him start drifting away and you're like, 'Why is he drifting away?' You don't hear the crowd yelling or ahhhing, so it's like 'Oh, God, Ben's coming this way so let me adjust and get him in front.'
"You realize the payoff on that is if you keep him clean, he's going to make something spectacular happen when he's back there, especially when he's moving because he's going to move that defense with his feet. It's a special gift, something a defense has to play him for because they can't necessarily say, 'Keep him in the pocket' because he can make throws in the pocket, but when he's on the run it turns a DEFCON 1 for them."
Guard Doug Legursky will be new to this game of blocking for Roethlisberger because the only NFL games he has started in this, his second season, have been the past two. He is a quick learner, though, and he relates blocking for Roethlisberger to, well, forgetting about the real Big Ben (the one in London).
"Just no clocks, that's basically our approach to it. On pass protection and stuff, you get a feeling of when the ball has been released," Legursky said of blocking for normal quarterbacks. "With Ben, you don't know. So you can never have a clock in your head and you always keep fighting on those pass protection plays.
"You definitely have to be more aware of where the defensive lineman's working towards, and definitely be able to try to pick up some ground if Ben works way outside."
No matter what, Starks believes Roethlisberger always will have more sacks than the average quarterback because of his style.
"I think he's going to be vulnerable to it but I think the onus is on us to try to limit that. We were more of a passing offense last year, so the sack to pass ratio, it's not as bad as it looks. It's a finite number, so it makes it look a lot worse than it is. Yes, he was second-most sacked but he also threw more than 4,000 yards.
"Now that we have a more-balanced offense, I think he'll limit that exposure, and it gives us more options and makes us a more two-dimensional offense."
Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, on the scout team in practice, portrayed Cleveland's Josh Cribbs in the Browns' wildcat offense. Any chance Cribbs might be portraying Randle El on Cleveland's scout team in practice?
"I'm sure he was doing some of the stuff we do," Randle El said. "I was certainly imitating him. I think I did a pretty good job for what we did today. I think tomorrow it'll be better, much faster pace, motion the guys down and put them in the right spot. But I think it's something our defense has to be ready for."
Ready or not, Cribbs gouged that defense Dec. 10 in Cleveland, averaging nearly 11 yards a carry (8 for 87), most out of the quarterback spot in the wildcat.
"He's not afraid to hit the hole and take it up in there right at the linebacker," Randle El said. "He's not a guy who's just going to stretch it all the time and get to the outside."
Randle El has taken a few snaps at quarterback himself this season, but, so far, has thrown no passes, even though he is 20 of 25 in his career in the regular season with four touchdowns. That may be on its way.
"One of the things is feeling comfortable enough with having your guy back," Randle El explained. "I think we kind of took some of it easy with Ben being out. We didn't want to put too much in. I think we will, it's just a matter of time."
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org .