The arrival of Matt Canada’s offense and Adrian Klemm’s influence to the offensive line is good news for a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers. Many new linemen get to channel their physicality more than they had the last two years under former OL Coach Sean Sarrett. And the team’s young offensive playmakers go from a Randy Fichtner offense that produced minimal results to one installed by Canada, which comes with a much higher ceiling for excitement.
All that change is fine for younger players who don’t have a decade’s experience in doing things another way. But what about Ben Roethlisberger, turning 40 next year and playing in likely the final season of an 18-year career? Adjusting to an entirely new offense in the final season of a Hall of Fame career is an unexpected and potentially unwelcome challenge to close things out. His right tackle this season, Zach Banner, spoke about him in an interview on Tuesday morning.
“The sacrifices he’s making, not saying he has an ego, but he’s putting his own thoughts aside and letting things flow and he’s letting things happen and mature. I commend him on that, because after doing this for however many years he’s been doing this, sometimes change can be scary, change can be different,” Banner said.
Matt Canada is the fifth offensive coordinator Roethlisberger has played for in his career, and the change to him from Randy Fichtner is tied for the quickest turnaround in OCs that Ben has underwent as a QB. Fichtner coached only three years in the position before Pittsburgh fired him, matching the three-year tenure of Roethlisberger’s first OC, Ken Whisenhunt. Bruce Arians coached Ben five years, and Todd Haley six.
Making the switch opens up an opportunity for Roethlisberger to get one more season as the risk-taking QB he used to be, after Roethlisberger averaged far and away his fewest yards per completion in 2020 under Fichtner, with very little in the way of deep passing in the offense. Roethlisberger also had his fewest yards in a season of 14 games or more since 2008, his fifth season in the NFL. He does have to learn the specifics of Canada’s gameplan, though, a degree of change for him but one which, through OTAs and minicamp, he appears to be handling as well as he could.
“The dude is just, he soaked it up. It’s not like what we’re doing is changing how he operates. It’s more changing his arsenal of weapons, you know what I mean?” Banner said.
The weapons themselves haven’t changed much. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington give him the same top four receivers as 2020. Eric Ebron is the same starter at tight end. The only differences in weapons are first-round running back Najee Harris, replacing James Conner, and second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth, backing up Ebron. New starters make up most of the offensive line, though. At least three players will start at new positions in 2021. That includes Banner, who suffered a Week 1 injury after earning the right tackle job last season.
Bigger than any player changes, though, is the changes to the overall offensive gameplan, and how Roethlisberger adapts to changing some parts of his game in his final season on the field.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit, couple technique things and a couple different things we’re adding, but when it comes to seven, all we’re doing is telling him this is the weapons that we plan on using and the ways we plan on going about it. And changing that hasn’t been hard for him at all,” Banner said.