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Roethlisberger Gets First Chance To Run New Steelers Offense

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pittsburgh.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is excited to run the Pittsburgh Steelers’ new offense.

Roethlisberger, who was held out of Pittsburgh’s first two preseason games, will have his initial opportunity to work with first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada during an in-game setting when the Steelers host Detroit on Saturday.

“I would love to get as many reps as I can,” Roethlisberger said on Thursday. “It’s been how many months since I stepped on a football field to take a hit or play any meaningful type of reps. With the newness of it, I definitely want to get as much as I can.”

The Steelers promoted Canada from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after Randy Fichtner's contract wasn’t renewed following a first-round playoff loss against Cleveland.

Canada is a believer of dictating and changing tempo in his offense. The Steelers already implemented some jet sweeps and pre-snap motions early last season, a staple throughout Canada’s two-decade career as a college coach.

Canada believes the 39-year-old Roethlisberger can run a similar up-tempo offense, and he intends to build the offense off the strengths of the two-time Super Bowl winner.

“I think Ben is right where he wants to be,” Canada said. “Ben’s worked very hard to get everyone on the same page. The few changes we’ve had in our offense, the tweaks we’ve had in terminology ... he’s embraced those and learned them, as well as teaching everybody else.”

Roethlisberger isn’t sure how much in-game time he’ll need with Canada during his preseason debut on Saturday to feel comfortable with the new offense.

Roethlisberger admitted to unsuccessfully lobbying Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in an effort to play during last week’s preseason win at Philadelphia. He wanted to simulate the new offense in a road environment since Pittsburgh opens the regular season at Buffalo, which reached the AFC championship game in the 2020 season.

Still, Roethlisberger believes it’s important to take preseason snaps, citing the new offensive scheme and player-to-coach communication, as Canada works from the press box, unlike Fichtner.

“There’s a lot of newness and I think it’s prudent to get as much time in as I can under those circumstances,” Roethlisberger said.

Tomlin didn’t indicate how long Roethlisberger would play on Saturday.

“The emphasis for this outing, as it pertains to the quarterback position is getting Ben his first in-stadium exposure of the preseason, and we’ll go from there,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said that he never gave consideration to Roethlisberger sitting out the Steelers’ four-game preseason. He also believes it’s significant for the 18-year veteran to play a couple of series on Saturday.

“If he was in the same system of offense that he’d been in, he probably wouldn’t play,” Tomlin said. “We’ve taken that approach in the past. But we think it’s good for him to get in the stadium, and communicate with Matt, and do some of the things that the quarterback has to do from a dry run perspective before we step into the regular season.”

The challenge of newer concepts and verbiage within the offense has Roethlisberger excited to the point where he put in additional work at home and took extra snaps in practice this week.

Roethlisberger looked particularly nimble and athletic during workouts this week, executing play action and bootleg rollout passes. He said there will be more mid-range and deep throws mixed in with a short passing game, which was a prominent feature in last season’s offense.

“We’re still going to have plenty of plays where the ball is getting out quick because that’s smart,” Roethlisberger said.

“We have guys that when you get the ball in their hands, amazing things can happen, so I need to get the ball in their hands quick and let it happen.”

Roethlisberger will have his first chance to run the new offense on Saturday.

“If this were still the same stuff, I’d probably go home, watch the film and be ready to move on,” Roethlisberger said. “I just think because it’s different, I want to make sure that I’m not the reason that we struggle.”

NOTES: Tomlin said that newly acquired veteran linebacker Joe Schobert is expected to only play with the starters on Saturday. … WR Chase Claypool sustained a leg injury during Tuesday’s practice, but he hasn’t been ruled out of Saturday’s game, in addition to veterans Cam Heyward, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who all rested in the Steelers’ first two preseason games. ... Tomlin didn’t have an update on LB T.J. Watt or DE Stephon Tuitt, both of whom haven’t practiced with the team during training camp.