Thursday, September 27, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Sometimes it's just circumstances, sometimes it's who you're playing, sometimes it's a little everything."
-- Alan Faneca, on the 3-0 start
Deserved or not, critics blamed the traditionally slow starts by Bill Cowher's Steelers on easy training camps. Then along came Mike Tomlin with a 3-0 start, and people linked it to the "tough" training camp he held in Latrobe this summer.
It sounds good, except for one thing. Tomlin's training camps were easier than those run by Cowher. At least, that's what guard Alan Faneca believes.
"The only thing I would say training camp-wise, it was a little lighter than what we've done in the past," Faneca said yesterday.
And here most everyone thought they were more difficult.
"That was y'all guys," Faneca told the media gathered around him.
While Tomlin scheduled 15 two-a-days, several were canceled and more than half were short special-teams practices. Other times, he cut the afternoon practices short.
Faneca cited his main reason for believing the new staff went easier on them.
"It was just probably less banging, at least up front."
And maybe it's the work, not the degree of toughness, that has an effect on the start of the season. Or, maybe it's the schedule.
"We really had a history of either starting off slow or not coming out of the gates like this. It's definitely different," Faneca said. "Sometimes, it's just circumstances; sometimes, it's who you're playing; sometimes, it's a little everything. It's making that transition from camp to the season and putting it down when it counts."
And nobody's putting it down more forcibly this year over last than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His team is 3-0, he has thrown six touchdown passes and one interception, and his passer rating is 102.9. After missing the first game last season, Roethlisberger went 0-3 in his first three games with no touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 41.67 passer rating.
What's the difference?
"I think it's being smart," Roethlisberger said. "Last year, I felt like I knew the offense real well. Maybe I tried to do too much, knowing too much. This year, I know more, but I am not forcing it."
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Roethlisberger's offensive coordinator the previous three seasons, suggested in February that, in hindsight, the coaches likely brought him back too soon from his appendectomy.
Roethlisberger took issue with that and reiterated yesterday he did not believe it to be the case.
"I certainly didn't mean to offend or upset Ben," Whisenhunt said yesterday. "I was asked a question and tried to answer the question honestly. I've always admired Ben the way he's been able to fight back from injuries. He's one of the toughest players I've ever been around."
Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt appeared to have a frosty relationship when they worked together, and it has come out since they separated. Neither said much of anything yesterday to further the feud, but it became so apparent to Tomlin that he had a talk with his quarterback about it yesterday, to make sure Roethlisberger is focused on beating the Cardinals, not Whisenhunt.
"We had a brief talk this morning about that," Roethlisberger said. "I am going to go out and do what I have to do to win the football game ...
"I am not going to bash anything about the last year or any of the years. We won a Super Bowl and were very successful. Of course, I am going to be happy with the system I am in now."
Roethlisberger was asked by the Arizona media yesterday if Whisenhunt was tough on him the way he's pushing Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart.
"I know what Matt's going through," Roethlisberger answered, laughing.
Whisenhunt, appraised of that remark, asked a reporter in Arizona yesterday, "Is that good or bad? I think Ben had a couple of perfect passer ratings and I think he won a Super Bowl, so if that's a product of it, then that's not bad."
The Steelers' quarterback was harsher earlier this season when speaking about his former coaches compared to new coordinator Bruce Arians.
"We were so predictable -- run on first, run on second, throw on third-and-long -- and that killed us," Roethlisberger told USA Today Sports Weekly in training camp. "Last year, if we took a shot downfield and it was incomplete -- or, heaven forbid, intercepted -- we weren't throwing it again for a long time. And since we knew we were only throwing 15-20 times, we were so careful with doing this and that.
"It will be nice to know that Bruce isn't going to handcuff us."
Said Whisenhunt, "He's very efficient and looks very confident in the pocket. Certainly, he has made some plays moving out of the pocket and throwing downfield, a lot of the things that make Ben the good quarterback he is."