On the Steelers: Roethlisberger a changed man

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As more evidence arrived that there is a new and improved Ben Roethlisberger off the field, the Steelers welcome one big change their quarterback has not made.

He is the same Big Ben on the field as in the past with a bonus tossed in this season, the lowest interception percentage of his career. Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions, the fewest since he had nine in 2005, his second season. He has not thrown one in his past 136 passes, one of the longest streaks in Steelers history.

"To me that's one of the things that I want to pride myself in is not throwing interceptions," Roethlisberger said. "That to me is the worst thing. I'd rather have 5 percent completions and no interceptions.

"Interceptions drive me crazy. That's something I try to pride myself in. Just make sure I see the throw before I throw it. Sometimes you can't control balls that are tipped, balls go through hands, you can't control those. But the ones I control I want to take pride in not giving that team a chance to score."

Roethlisberger, who missed the first four games while suspended by the NFL for sexual assault allegations made against him in March, has picked up where he left off on the field. He has a strong 94.3 passer rating with 15 touchdowns, a 3-1 ratio to interceptions. He added three more winning drives in the fourth quarter/overtime this season to make it 25 for his career, including two in the postseason.

He has helped guide the Steelers, who have clinched a playoff berth, within a victory Sunday in Cleveland of securing the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-week bye in the playoffs.

Wednesday, the Pro Football Writers local chapter gave Roethlisberger "The Chief Award" presented annually to someone in the organization who follows the spirit of cooperation shown the media by franchise founder Art Rooney. He is the first quarterback in the award's 23 years.

It's not an award this quarterback would have won in past years, but he promised to be more forthcoming with his time and his attitude toward those who cover the team, and he did. It was, he said, part of an entirely new outlook he has taken toward people since the situation in Georgia that pitted him against a female college student and the subsequent punishment by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell prompted him to reassess his lifestyle.

"I said I need to be more cooperative with people, be a better person," Roethlisberger said. "As much as people like to joke, you [in the media] are people. And we treat you guys that way. It's just a change I wanted to make in my life and it's towards you guys as well."

Pouncey pounces

The Steelers drafted Maurkice Pouncey in the first round in April to be their center of the future. Little did they realize the future would arrive in four months.

They put him at right guard to give him a chance to win that job as a rookie, but Pouncey convinced them he could be an overpowering center right away.

Wednesday, Pouncey was the unanimous choice by the Pro Football Writers as the team's rookie of the year, earning him the Joe Greene Great Performance Award to go with his Pro Bowl spot from the previous day.

Pouncey has started all 15 games and provided a beacon at center for the offensive line.

"It started up at camp," Pouncey said of his quick transition from guard to center, where he played virtually all of his career at Florida. "I was taking a lot of guard reps at first. And one day, coach [Sean] Kugler said I was going to be taking half the center reps. I kind of knew from there that I was going to move forward at that position."

He was so dominant at center that the Steelers wound up releasing Justin Hartwig, who started for them the previous two seasons.

Pouncey has been a lifesaver for an offensive line that lost both its starting tackles and replaced their starting guard midway through the season.

Mike Tomlin and his coaches were reluctant to put Pouncey at center because that position requires him to make the line calls for blocking and adjustments, difficult for any young player. Pouncey, however, showed a grasp of the offense early and developed a good rapport with Roethlisberger.

"I told you guys all along that he's one of the best in the game; he's going to be the best and the sky's the limit for him," Roethlisberger said.

The quarterback said that "everything" stands out about Pouncey.

"Physicalness, he's always downfield, he's always finishing, he's always trying to start a fight between every player -- that's kind of something you want; he gets back in the huddle when I tell him. But I think what's most impressive about him is his smarts, the mental part of it. He's in here watching film ... he should be hitting a wall right now but he's not. He's getting better every week."

Injury report

There were no surprises as the Steelers went through their first practice since they beat Carolina, 27-3, last Thursday. Troy Polamalu (Achilles), Mewelde Moore (knee) and Jason Worilds did not practice. Neither did James Harrison, who was sick. LaMarr Woodley (knee) was limited in practice.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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