“I hope the people of Pittsburgh know me well enough to know I love football, I love Pittsburgh and I love the Steelers. My teammates and Steelers fans are going to get 110 percent from me. They don’t need to worry about getting anything less.” — Ben.

From Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

010617_1Ben Roethlisberger said he never looked back after deciding to return to the Steelers for another season, his 14th in the NFL.

But a little positive reinforcement never hurts.

For Roethlisberger, it came last week during the first night of the NFL draft. The Cleveland Browns used the No. 1 overall pick to take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, who promptly said he plans on making Roethlisberger his first NFL sack when the teams play Sept. 10 in Cleveland on the opening weekend of the season.

“I was talking to [Maurkice Pouncey] after Garrett called me out. Pounce got a big kick out of it. All of my linemen enjoyed hearing it. They can’t wait to get started. I can’t, either.”

It was a relaxed Roethlisberger who jumped on the telephone this week for a 45-minute chat during which he addressed the Steelers draft, which included quarterback Joshua Dobbs, old teammate Martavis Bryant, new teammate James Conner, the 2017 Steelers and his football future, among other topics.

He was hitting golf balls with his son, Benjamin Jr., 4, on a range not far from his offseason escape on Lake Oconee in Georgia. It turns out Junior might want to be a pro golfer rather than a Hall of Fame quarterback, which is just fine with his old man.

“He already hits the ball straighter than I do,” Roethlisberger said.

Family time has been the best part of Roethlisberger’s busy offseason. He also spoke for two hours about faith, family and, yes, maybe a little Antonio Brown to nearly 10,000 men at a retreat at Liberty College in Virginia.

“I had no idea what I was going to say. It came from the heart.” He hunted for Red Stag elk, Fallow deer and Arapawa ram during a trip to New Zealand with good friend, Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. “I got all three!,” Roethlisberger gushed. And he was inducted into the Hancock County (Ohio) Sports Hall of Fame with his younger sister, Carlee, a basketball and volleyball star at Oklahoma. He ranks that as one of his greatest honors because there is nothing quite like feeling welcome in your hometown.

Next up for Roethlisberger is a reconciliation with Bryant, the Steelers’ talented, but troubled wide receiver who was conditionally reinstated by the NFL last month after he missed the 2016 season because of a marijuana-related suspension. Roethlisberger had been Bryant’s biggest supporter and texted him daily when Bryant missed the first four games of 2015 because of another marijuana suspension. But Roethlisberger felt betrayed and even lied to by Bryant before the second suspension.

010516_1“It’s more than just me. He has to win back everybody’s trust,” Roethlisberger said. “I would hope he comes up to me and we go somewhere to talk in private. After that, he has to show with his work ethic and by staying clean that he cares — really cares — about us. If he does that, it’ll be huge. He can really help us. He can be so great.”

Roethlisberger said he liked the Steelers’ draft, especially the selection of Conner on Friday night with the team’s second pick in the third round. He and Conner share the same agent, Ryan Tollner. They worked out together a few times during the winter in Newport Beach, Calif.

“I’m not saying I’m the reason we picked him, but I really pushed hard for him,” Roethlisberger said. “I think he’s going to be such a great fit for us. Every player who’s from Pittsburgh or played in Pittsburgh wants to play for the Steelers. I get that. Bruce [Gradkowski] and Charlie [Batch] were that way. But James has a passion to play for us. ‘I only want to go to Pittsburgh,’ he told me before the draft. He’s going to work his butt off. You won’t even recognize him when you see him. He’s got his diet right. He’s lost weight. He’s leaner, stronger and faster. I’m really excited about the energy he’s going to bring to our team.”

If Conner’s enthusiasm makes Roethlisberger feel younger, the selection of Southern California wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round makes him feel older, a lot older. Smith-Schuster, the youngest player in the draft, won’t turn 21 until Nov. 22.

“I just shake my head about that. When that kid was born, I was in high school! Geez!,” Roethlisberger said.

As for Dobbs, the Steelers’ fourth-round pick, well, he makes Roethlisberger feel a little less intelligent. Dobbs has a degree from Tennessee in aerospace engineering.

“I think it’ll be more fun to talk to him about fighter jet engines than about football,” Roethlisberger said.

“I meant what I said to him when I reached out to him after the draft. I’m going to help him and teach him everything I can. If he turns out to be the guy who follows me, great. If not, I’m still going to help him all I can.”

Roethlisberger wouldn’t say how many more seasons he will play. He said he doesn’t know. He is signed through the 2019 season, although he says he has no idea how long his contract runs. He set off panic in Steelers Nation two days after last season when he said on his 93.7 The Fan radio show that he was considering all his options, including retirement. He said he had to think about his family and his long-term health.

“I’ve got to take it year by year at this point,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m never going to look past any year because I want to give everything I have to that year. I’m not worried about next year. I have to win now. I think we can. I believe we have just about everybody back. I want to see what we look like as a team that’s a year better.”

100616_3Chuck Noll often said a player who is considering retirement should go ahead and do it because he won’t be fully committed to football. Roethlisberger isn’t buying that.

“Just because you think about your future doesn’t mean you have to retire. A lot of guys think about their future. Look at James Harrison [who retired briefly in August 2014].”

It all starts for the Steelers May 23, the first day of their Organized Team Activities. Roethlisberger said he can’t wait, not just to say hello to Conner again and to meet the other new players but maybe to have a few more laughs at Garrett’s expense with Pouncey and his four other best friends on the team, Al Villanueva, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. Surely, they all will hoot and holler about Gilbert’s tweets to Garrett on draft night.

“It’s a lot easier for me to come back knowing those five guys are going to be there with me. That’s a good feeling for a quarterback.”

The feeling is mutual among the linemen.

“When Ben’s gone, I’m gone,” Pouncey has said. “The moment he walks away, I’m walking right behind him.”

Those retirement parties will have to wait at least another year.

That sound you hear is Steelers Nation exhaling.

You can read more from Mr. Cook’s interview with Ben here.