Ben Roethlisberger spent the offseason in headlines for all the wrong reasons.
With his four-game suspension over, the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback gets an opportunity to change the tone and titles to the stories of his life. His private quarterback coach told FanHouse that he expects Roethlisberger to get off to a fast and fresh start Oct. 17 when the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns.
"He's ready to go," George Whitfield Jr. said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Whitfield, a highly acclaimed quarterbacks coach who runs Whitfield Athletix, a private quarterback training academy in San Diego, was in charge of training the two-time Super Bowl winner in Pittsburgh during Roethlisberger's suspension
As soon as the preseason ended, Whitfield flew to Pittsburgh to work with the Steelers' QB at Hampton High School four to five days a week until Oct. 1, ending his work shortly before Roethlisberger rejoined the Steelers on Oct. 4. The two worked on footwork, technique and even used film to ensure that Roethlisberger maintained his high-level mechanics.
Whitfield said he was impressed with the quarterback's work ethic and has no doubt he'll be able to step in and perform at a high level.
"He was very much doing everything that was necessary to go out and compete on Sunday. So I know fitness wise, he's there. He was always going 100 mph. He was very adamant in staying in that racehorse mentality," Whitfield said. "You're out here four weeks on your own and then you're going to jump on a moving train, so for him, he understood clearly. Every day he came out there, he knew exactly where he had to be."
Per NFL rules, Roethlisberger was unable to practice with the team, visit team facilities, interact with Steelers' coaches, members of the front office or even communicate with teammates regarding team matters or any football-related issue.
"The Steel City loves him. They genuinely care about him, he's one of their own and people would say hey, good luck, we're with you, we're behind you. They understand he's working his way back."
- George Whitfield Jr. So Roethlisberger turned to Whitfield, a former college and Arena Football League quarterback who coached at the University of Iowa and served as the San Diego Chargers' quarterbacks coaching intern during the summer of 2007 under Cam Cameron.
Even though the Steelers went 3-1 in Roethlisberger's absence, they struggled mightily on offense -- ranking 31st in the 32-team league in passing yards per game. His return is a welcome one, and during his press conference on Monday he noted that his teammates welcomed him back with a round of hugs.
"He had his arms open for four weeks and I think it's special because he understood he had his work to do and their job was to play ball," Whitfield said.
Pittsburgh has a bye this week and Whitfield believes that the extra week of preparation can only help Roethlisberger.
"I was glad that he came back to a bye week, he can get a feel for timing and (the) pass rush," he said. "I know physically and training-wise and preparation-wise, he's ready."
Whitfield said Roethlisberger told him that he worked more in their four weeks together than he normally would have had he trained with the team.
"So he's ahead of schedule there," Whitfield said.
Whitfield also worked with Roethlisberger on some new techniques.
"One thing is, he wanted to kind of figure out how can he be more efficient getting the ball out," Whitfield said. "Ben's got a big strong arm, one of the biggest arms in the league and from our standpoint, working together, it was important for him to be more efficient and how he can get more out of it. So one of those things in layman's terms, he's carrying it a little higher, he's holding it a little higher and that's letting it come out a little quicker and as strong as he is ... he can use more of that big arm."
In terms of how the general public interacted with Roethlisberger when Whitfield was around, the coach had nothing but high praise.
"The Steel City loves him," Whitfield said. "They genuinely care about him, he's one of their own and people would say hey, good luck, we're with you, we're behind you. They understand he's working his way back."
And Whitfield noted that Roethlisberger returned the love and was extremely gracious with all fans. The coach stressed that Roethlisberger was very accommodating and always signed autographs and took time out to interact with everyone. Even after their training sessions together, Roethlisberger would stay almost an hour later to sign autographs, Whitfield said.
Whitfield described Roethlisberger in a positive light.
"Very funny, very open guy," he said. "Very self-aware in terms of who he is and what he means to that city and what his circumstances are. He just wants to earn his way back and I'm excited he's getting the chance to do that.
"My personal experience with Ben was phenomenal. From a professional standpoint, he was always early, dedicated, always engaged in everything that he did. The guy is meticulous. And then off the field, getting a chance to be around him with friends and family and strangers in the city of Pittsburgh, he's gracious. He's an everyday guy. ... A lot of people don't get a chance to be around him or see him behind the scenes, but it really was a phenomenal experience. ... I'm really excited to see how far he can get these guys to go this season."