It is what Coach Mike Tomlin affectionately refers to as ‘football in shorts.’ The first day of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. A day to celebrate football being back in a sense.
And while it’s not the intensity you will see at training camp when the pads come on, it’s not what you will see on game day, for Ben Roethlisberger and his teammates it was the first time they were on the field in football mode since the 2018 season ended without a playoff berth.
It was a fresh start, a chance to erase what was a trying offseason and move forward with the players currently in the locker room.
“It’s good to throw it around, be around a bunch of guys who love football,” said Roethlisberger. “It’s fun. All of the laughing and joking that is going on. You can throw balls all you want, but to have a defense out there. My first pass was intercepted by Joe (Haden). I told Joe I did it on purpose to get him ready for the year.
“We have come here a couple of times for just workouts and stuff, but this is the first football thing. To be able to come out here and put a helmet on, get under center and get snaps, throw to guys, go against the defense. It’s turning back to football again. It’s fun.”
Roethlisberger understands coming off a season without a playoff berth combined with some new faces in the receivers room, including third-round pick Diontae Johnson and unrestricted free agent Donte Moncrief, makes this year’s OTAs a bit more important than in the past and he plans on being there for all of it.
“I plan on it,” said Roethlisberger. “I think it’s important with young guys, with new guys, to make sure we are all on the same page and figuring out what we need to win games.
“Whether it’s young guys, rookies, guys we have brought from other teams. It’s a new kind of challenge. That is what makes it fun. You love the challenge, you love working with the guys, communicating. That will be the biggest thing, communication. Being able to talk to guys and tell them exactly what I am thinking and asking them. Today with Moncrief I asked him a couple of times did you feel good with your depth there. Just working some things out. It’s definitely going to take some big focus.
“I am excited. You see James (Washington) and the work he has done. Moncrief is doing some great things. You know what you are going to get in JuJu (Smith-Schuster). It’s fun. Some of the guys I was just kind of eyeballing, some of the new guys. You have to watch them. I don’t get to throw to them, but I get to watch them work.”
One person missing from that group is Antonio Brown, who was traded to the Oakland Raiders this offseason and also made comments that Roethlisberger admitted were hurtful.
“As professional athletes we always talk about thick skin,” said Roethlisberger. “Naturally we have to have it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it bothered us at times. It does start to hurt. It affects your family. When it affects your family then it can definitely affect you. Things bother you. You think about it. But you also have to understand we live in an amazing country, people have opinions and people can say what they want. You just have to focus on the guys that are here and make sure they are good and everybody I have talked to is good with me.”
Roethlisberger said he tried to reach out to Brown ahead of the Steelers season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game Brown didn’t play in, but he never heard back from him.
“It was hard to process it because I didn’t know anything,” said Roethlisberger. “The last time we spoke was on Thursday before the last game. We hugged. We had a great talk. Everything was good. I knew nothing. So it was hard for me to know anything. I heard from a third party there were issues and I reached out to him many times. Sent him texts, called him. This was before the season was over. Never heard back. I could never find out what was going on.
“For me that is why it was so confusing. I didn’t know where it came from. The week before it was the Saints game. He had an unbelievable game. I never saw any of it coming. I would have loved to have had the chance to talk to him. That is why I said whatever I did to offend him I apologize for it. I tried to do it in person and he just wouldn’t allow me to.”
Roethlisberger did not comment on the Brown issue, or any of the criticism he received all offseason, instead taking the high road, a road that wasn’t always easily traveled.
“It’s always tough. It’s easier when you don’t do social media,” said Roethlisberger. “The biggest thing for me in the offseason is I thought he was coming back. No one knew what was going to happen. I anticipated we would have a chance to get back together and talk. Once he was gone that is not my style to come out and say anything. I just focused on the guys we have here, moving forward. That is what it most important to me.”