Not every star player chooses to show up at OTAs every season. Some elect to work out elsewhere, leaving the OTA work to younger players or those whose roster spots are not as secure.
Ben Roethlisberger is not among those players this offseason. The Steelers’ star quarterback, potentially playing his swan song as the team’s leader, is out there working this month. Reaping the benefits of having the Hall of Fame there are all the other players on the team’s offense, from a potential successor in Mason Rudolph to a new feature back in Najee Harris to an offensive line made primarily of new starters.
Another group that benefits from Roethlisberger’s presence is the team’s defense. It’s not the first group that people would think of, but Minkah Fitzpatrick explained why that is the case during a post-OTA media session Tuesday.
“I’m happy that Ben is out here. He’s been doing this for awhile. He doesn’t have to be out here and competing against us, but chooses to come and compete. And he’s out there, everybody gets better,” Fitzpatrick. “Not too many quarterbacks can do the things that he does. The very first play, he kind of held me in the middle of the field a little bit and made a throw backside. Not too many guys are doing that across the league. So me going up against that, I get to go back and watch film, or even on the field, I could’ve done this better.”
If a player like Fitzpatrick — an All-Pro the last two years and one of the best young defensive players in football — says that he is still getting beat by and learning from Roethlisberger at OTAs, younger players in the secondary like Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, and James Pierre who are stepping into bigger roles this season can learn an incredible amount from Roethlisberger.
It’s crucial for those players to get those reps against Roethlisberger now. Not only because it is likely their final camp to do so, but because of the type of passers they’re going to be defending against this season.
Buffalo MVP candidate Josh Allen in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers in Week 4, and Russell Wilson two weeks later. Patrick Mahomes in the third-to-last game of the season. Two games against Lamar Jackson, and three total against young stars Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.
Pittsburgh’s tough 2021 slate comes with a gauntlet of opposing passers. Roethlisberger choosing to be at OTAs is a way for the entire secondary — new starters and returning stars — to prepare.
“This year we’re going up against a lot of guys that are really high-caliber. So him coming out here early is definitely, I respect that,” Fitzpatrick said. “I appreciate it, we all do. It’s a great look. Everybody’s getting better from Ben out there.”