Before practice on Thursday, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fielded questions from the Pittsburgh media. One of the topics discussed through multiple questions was the relationship and expectations Roethlisberger has with his current group of wide receivers. With JuJu Smith-Schuster being the only current Steeler with more than 100 completions from Roethlisberger, the fact Smith-Schuster is only entering his third year in the league shows the lack of history the receivers have with their Super Bowl winning quarterback.
With the Steelers treating this week as much like a simulated game week as possible, the young wide receivers have been open about the anticipation of playing with their starting quarterback. Roethlisberger was asked about his excitement with working with his receivers in preparation for the game on Sunday with the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s been fun. This week in practice has felt a little different. Maybe it’s part being back here and part knowing I’m going to play a little bit. So I’ve kind of had a little ‘juice-bolt’ or whatever you want to call it to kind of get you going. This week’s been exciting so far knowing your going to get some reps and get out there with the guys and have some fun. So I definitely feel what they’re feeling.”
With such limited playing time by some starters in the preseason, many young receivers do not get to build the important relationship with their quarterback. Roethlisberger was asked if he wanted to get some time with the younger players, specifically Diontae Johnson and James Washington.
“I am going to try and get on the field with as many of them as possible. I think we’re going to try and rotate receivers in. So I think everyone will get a little bit of time because we want to be able to play that way this year. We don’t want to just have guys be on the field and wear themselves out. I’m emphasizing that when we do our two minute and we do our no huddle. If you need a quick breather, just take one. We’ve guys who can step up and step in and be ready to go.”
Getting as much work with each receiver is more important than ever for 2019. Of the 5,028 passes Roethlisberger has completed in the regular season and playoffs, almost 20% of them were to players who were on the 2018 roster but are no longer with the Steelers. If Le’Veon Bell were also to be included in that number, the percentage would rise to over 25%. Of the players currently on the Steelers roster, they comprise less than 10% of Roethlisberger’s career completions. With such a lack of familiarity between Roethlisberger and his receivers, the Steelers have a lot of quality work to get accomplished on Sunday.
One of the biggest needs to establish between a quarterback and his receivers is good communication and understanding of each other. Roethlisberger was asked how he communicates his expectations with the new players.
“It’s communicating during practice. It’s doing what I’m about to do as soon as I’m done with you guys. I’m about to go watch seven-on-seven with the receivers and break down every play and tell them this is what we think, and talk and just letting them know what I see, what I think. And them also communicating with me what they saw, why they did this, what they expect from me on a particular throw. Just constant communication, I think that’s huge.”
In 2018, James Washington had a strong preseason only to find himself struggling to get on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger. Working hard in the offseason to come in to camp lighter, faster, and stronger, Washington has stepped up his game in hopes of accomplishing the second-year jump many players wish to see. Roethlisberger was asked what he thought of where James Washington is this year as opposed to last season, especially from a mental standpoint.
“I think he took great strides, because physically obviously everyone has seen what he’s done in terms of losing weight but getting stronger. I think he’s got a little bit faster. But mentally, you don’t see the mistakes. You don’t see the confused looks sometimes, which any rookie is going to have that. It doesn’t matter what position they play. So you come in, you give him a hand signal, you tell him what to do and he’s doing it. And I think the biggest thing that people wouldn’t know is it’s not just at his position. I can move him to other positions and he still doesn’t skip a beat. So to me it just shows all the hard work he put in this offseason.”
It will be interesting to see how much game action Ben Roethlisberger will get with his young receivers on Sunday night. While the need for in-game is experience is great, the need to enter the 2019 healthy and injury free is even greater. Hopefully Sunday night shows familiarity is something the Steelers have worked out already in training camp and they are already prepared to hit the 2019 regular season running.
Roethlisberger’s session with the media can be seen here: