How the Steelers have navigated Ben Roethlisberger’s absence

Excerpts from the article at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Bushy-bearded Ben Roethlisberger sat down on a Gatorade jug, headset on, Microsoft Surface tablet in hand, and waved over Devlin Hodges from a couple seats down the bench.

It was early in the second quarter Sunday against Cleveland. Hodges had just rolled out to his right and thrown the ball away on third-and-8, wasting a near-perfect blitz pick-up by his offensive line and running back Jaylen Samuels. After a Jordan Berry punt, the old Pittsburgh gunslinger and the new one chatted for about a minute, then went their separate ways.

“Just talking ball,” Hodges recalled a few days later. “It’s always good to get some insight, especially from a guy like Ben who’s been in this system and knows this system better than anybody. Usually when he says something, it’s pretty accurate.”

A couple drives later, Roethlisberger sat with Diontae Johnson, explaining some route concepts and coverage schemes to the team’s rookie wide receiver, the one who has only had a game and a half of action with the winningest quarterback in franchise history.

“Ben knew exactly what had to happen for us to be good. And I think, to a degree, he was the only person in the building who knew what had to happen, so he had a lot more say and authority on certain issues. For us on the O-line, it was perfect, because we just had to follow him.” — Al Villanueva.

After an offseason in which Roethlisberger’s leadership was called on the carpet — or, in the case of Antonio Brown’s sit-down interview with ESPN, a lavish marble floor — and his role in the franchise questioned by outsiders, he hasn’t had opportunities to quell those doubts. But depending on whom you ask, the jury’s not out. Not when it comes to what really matters most when you assess what the Steelers lost this season in Roethlisberger.

“I would say it’s more in here. It’s more off the field,” said McDonald, whose locker is next to Roethlisberger’s. “On the field, obviously, we miss him. But it’s easier, I think, to cope with that. … You end up missing him and his personality and his presence in the locker room. Just in between meetings, or in meetings, for me personally, that’s where you miss him more.”

“Nah, it’s more on the field,” said center Maurkice Pouncey, as staunch a defender of Roethlisberger as anyone throughout his career. “[Shoot], we don’t care. Every franchise quarterback is different, but on that football field, they make every throw.”

To an extent, Roethlisberger’s comeback has already begun. He only played six quarters in 2019 but has now spent the past six games with his teammates and coaches on the sideline. Mostly, he’s working here and there with the quarterbacks, and his overall involvement is fluid.

“You talk about a quarterback with that much experience, he’s able to talk to us, to keep us up when we’re down and just stay positive,” JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “When you hear it from a coach, it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before.’ But from him, it’s a Hall of Fame quarterback telling you what’s good, what we see out there and how he can help us improve our game, which is awesome.”

You can read the entire article here.