Though he did not work with him immediately, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has been with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the vast majority of his career. Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004 and Fichtner was hired as part of Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s original staff in 2007. He served as wide receivers coach a bit before moving to quarterbacks coach with the retirement of Ken Anderson.
Roethlisberger was something like 25 or so at the time that Fichtner first came into town. Back then, he couldn’t imagine Big Ben playing this long, now at 37 and committed to play right up to his 40s, and perhaps even into his 40s.
Now in his second year as offensive coordinator, Fichtner sat down with Missi Matthews during OTAs recently to talk about a variety of topics, one of which was Roethlisberger’s longevity, now that he has received a contract extension that locks him up through 2021.
Asked if he thought back then that he would still be playing now, Fichtner said, “probably, being honest, no. We all know that Ben plays the game very physically. He’s not afraid to take licks in the pocket. He’s not afraid to extend plays knowing he’s gonna put his body in harm’s way. That’s the way he plays”.
“I can remember one instance early when I started coaching him”, he went on. “He said, ‘Randy, you know, that’s how I play’. And I knew in that minute that’s how he’s gonna play his career. So let’s don’t try and not play that style”.
The heyday of that ‘style was during the Bruce Arians years, of course, but Roethlisberger has evolved in how he plays since then. That said, he still likes to try to extend the play when possible, and he made some big things happen doing so last year, particularly with Antonio Brown and, of all people, Jesse James. James entered last season averaging 8.7 yards per reception for his career.
“Over time, I think where he’s really done a great job is taking care of his body year-round”, Fichtner said, crediting Roethlisberger’s conditioning for his longevity. “He’s been very committed to the things that take care of his body. So if I’m looking at it now, I say, no, I can see why he’d still be playing. He’s making really quick decisions in the pocket. He’s trying to get the ball out of his hands a lot more. But his body is just what is there now, and it’s really in pretty good shape”.
That has been especially true of late. He has outwardly and openly been more focused on his physical conditioning over the past two offseasons and now works with a full-time trainer year-round. He said last offseason that he felt better physically than he had in years, particularly his arm. He went on to set new career-highs in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns, so perhaps he wasn’t wrong.