Buoyed by a return to health, a better relationship with his coach and what he sees in his teammates, Ben Roethlisberger predicted good things for himself and the Steelers in 2013.
"This offense is like a new toy," Roethlisberger said Saturday in an interview with the Post-Gazette. "It's like I'm opening this present, and I can't wait to see what's going to come out of this thing with all these guys and this offense.
"I'm generally excited for this year."
He and Todd Haley, his offensive coordinator, had a somewhat frosty relationship in their first season together in 2012. That has changed and developed into one the quarterback called "actually good."
"And I'm not just saying that," Roethlisberger said before the Steelers took the field Saturday for their first practice of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. "Last year obviously had its growing pains; it is what it is. And it's more than just him and I. It was him and other coaches, him and other players, but obviously people are going to talk about the quarterback and the coordinator more.
"But there was no hatred, none of that stuff people made it out to be. It was nothing like that. We had our times when we butted heads, but I butted heads with [former coordinators Bruce Arians and Ken Whisenhunt].
"So it was nothing big. But I think so far this year it's been really good. We've been able to talk, to communicate, and I see a relationship really kind of coming together."
Roethlisberger said at spring practices that Haley was open to input from him and other players and even agreed to re-name some plays as they were named under Arians. He said the effort to improve the relationship came from all sides.
"I've put forth effort. I know he's put forth an effort. I know other coaches and players have put forth an effort just to kind of all come together.
"He was kind of the outcast last year. We pretty much had everybody still there and one new guy comes in and it's not like a new tight end or a new center, it was a new boss. So everyone has put the work in to become better with each other and it's shown. I think it will show as we progress through practices.
"That's another reason I'm excited because I see the evolution of the relationship of our offense."
Roethlisberger and Haley's offense did not fare so well after a good start and 6-3 record in 2012. Roethlisberger left the ninth game with injuries to his right shoulder and ribs, missed three games and the offense and the season fell apart as the Steelers lost five of their final seven games to finish 8-8.
At 31 and entering his 10th season, the man who holds most of the franchise's records for quarterbacks sees better days ahead.
"I feel like this year could be one of my best," Roethlisberger said.
He reiterated that his shoulder and ribs have long since healed and said his right knee, on which he had minor surgery to clean out some cartilage, feels fine. But he did not want to dispute Mike Tomlin's assessment Friday that he was feeling "discomfort." He did not run with his teammates in the annual run test the first day of camp because he was told not to by a trainer, Roethlisberger said.
"I feel great. I'm ready to rock and roll. I can't wait for practice. I don't think I'll be restricted at all."
Even though the Steelers lost some key players such as wide receiver Mike Wallace and halfback Rashard Mendenhall, Roethlisberger is upbeat -- about himself, his team's prospects, his offense and his reformulated offensive line. The Steelers did not try to re-sign tackle Max Starks and released guard Willie Colon. They plan to start relatively young players at both tackles, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, and one at guard, David DeCastro.
"If they can stay healthy, I think that can be one of the best groups we've had in a long time," Roethlisberger said. "I really do. I've seen more cohesiveness among these guys right now than I have in a long time."
Many, including team president Art Rooney II, would like to see Roethlisberger stay healthy, too. He missed those three games in 2012, missed one in 2011 with an ankle sprain that hindered him in a few others and has played only one 16-game season in his nine-year career.
"It bothers me, not because of what people say, it bothers me because I want to play," Roethlisberger said. "I hate missing games. I probably could have and should have missed more games throughout my career. We play a very violent sport. Knock on wood, I feel I've been lucky to not have a, quote, 'real serious injury.'
"To miss four or five here and there, that's pretty fortunate if you ask me, compared to ACL, knees, elbows ... I know I play the game a little different than most. I know I play a physical style and that's what comes with it. But I think as long as you feel healthy and are able to bounce back -- as you get older, you just naturally have to be in better shape when you come to camp and be ready to go."
And Roethlisberger said he is in better shape. His weight is down, he said his physique is better and he has concentrated on building more upper-body strength, including kayaking as one method of doing so.
"I pushed myself to be better. I want to be better, a better player. Last year, I was playing well [before the injuries]. I feel like this year could be one of my best. Obviously there are a lot of factors, injuries and all that, you have to stay healthy, the line has to stay healthy.
"I honestly felt I was getting better. I still am. There will be a time, obviously, you can't get better because you get older but I don't think that's time for me yet."
That became obvious when, while promoting a September game against the Minnesota Vikings in London, Roethlisberger repeated an old goal of wanting to win more Super Bowl titles than any quarterback ever.
"I've been saying that since Day 1. ... It was ridiculous when I said it as a rookie, and it was probably ridiculous to win two, and I've been to three of them. I've been blessed. I may never get to another one, but my goal is still to get three more.
"I don't want to say the window is closing, because I still feel good, I feel right in my prime, so I feel I have some years left to do it and staying healthy is the key."
First Published July 27, 2013 4:15 AM