I don’t know if there’s been a shift in the national media posture or if this is simply selection bias on my part, but several big-named reporters and analysts have struck a much rosier picture about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 chances.
Peter King is the latest to speak optimistically about the Steelers and in particular, QB Ben Roethlisberger. He joined the Dan Patrick Show to discuss his expectations for what could be Roethlisberger’s final year in the league. King is drinking the Slim-Ben Kool-Aid, noting he looks in much better shape than a year ago.
“When you saw the picture of him walking into training camp, looking like Ben Roethlisberger of 2008 instead of what he looked like last year,” King told the show. “He just got too big last year. He looks good.”
Roethlisberger certainly looked fine heading into training camp. Though there were reports that Roethlisberger was on diet stricter than Tom Brady, he didn’t look drastically different than a year ago. The “best shape of his life” discussions around Roethlisberger happen every season and generally are forgotten once Week 1 kicks off.
But it’s fair to say this offseason was much friendlier than last. The Steelers and the league benefitted from a normal slate of spring workouts, important for a Pittsburgh team with a new OC, while Roethlisberger is another year removed from surgery and could focus on rest and football instead of his mechanics, as he pointed out early in camp.
Roethlisberger will likely be working with the final OC of his career. This is Matt Canada’s first gig calling plays on Sundays. King seemed to imply Roethlisberger has as much influence in this offense as ever before.
“Dan, if you listened to him talk now, the offensive coordinator is Matt Canada. This guy who nobody in America has ever heard of. But I would say Ben Roethlisberger while not being co-coordinator, he’s going to have a lot to say with what they run, how often they run it. And I think he’s going to be at Matt Canada’s side.”
Roethlisberger’s been known, sometimes to a fault, for running the show. Randy Fichtner was partially hired because of his close relationship with him. Roethlisberger’s relationship with Todd Haley was always icy because of Haley’s strong personality that at times, seemed to clash with his quarterback’s. Canada has a distinct, college-like offense, so it’ll be telling to see how many aspects of that get installed this season. But he’s been very clear his offense will revolve around what Roethlisberger likes and what he’s comfortable doing.
King concluded Roethlisberger can have a successful year. But much is dependent on the play of the five men in front of him.
“So this is going to be Roethlisberger’s season. If the Steelers can have one last hurrah with Ben Roethlisberger, this is it. I just really wonder with the offensive line having lost the two gigantic members, three really, if you count Villanueva. But you lose their best offensive lineman in David DeCastro, and you lose the center that was the leader, not only of that line, but of that team in Maurkice Pouncey. Is Ben going to be running for his life or are they going to be solid up there? We’ll see.”
The play of the offensive line is the million dollar question. We’ll hopefully get our first look at the projected five starting Wednesday though it’s been a bit of a M.A.S.H. unit to begin training camp. Kevin Dotson has yet to practice, Chukwuma Okorafor hasn’t been in team drills, and Zach Banner has been eased back in recovering from a torn ACL. On Saturday, the Steelers were down to fourth-string center Anthony Coyle to finish out practice.
Check out the interview between Patrick and King below.