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Big Ben pleased with O-line picks

April 29, 2012
By Buck Frank, , The Altoona Mirror

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already talked with the newest Steelers first-round draft pick, offensive guard David DeCastro.

Roethlisberger said he phoned DeCastro to welcome him to the team, but DeCastro thought he was talking to a Steelers official who was handling his travel arrangements.

"He was saying, 'Did you get those flight plans? Did you get those flight plans?''' Roethlisberger, with his wife, Ashley, at his side, told an audience of 1,100 Saturday night at the 25th anniversary of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Blair County Convention Center. Roethlisberger said after a few seconds, DeCastro realized who he was talking to.

Article Photos

Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Ben Roethlisberger jokes around with members of the 1999 state champion Tyrone football team prior to the start of Saturday’s ceremony.

"I can't wait once we get started to get on him about that,'' Roethlisberger joked.

Steelers fans can only hope Roethlisberger, who made his first-ever speaking engagement, and DeCastro get on the same page. The Steelers made a commitment to their offensive line in the recent days by selecting DeCastro in the first round of the NFL draft and offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round and added a third lineman, tackle Kelvin Beachum, in the seventh round on Saturday.

"I'm excited,'' Roethlisberger said before Saturday's event. "You know, at least on paper, it looks awesome. But, you never know until you take the field and the bullets start flying. I'm really excited. We got some good guys on offense and defense to help add to a team that was good already.

"I had an idea [about the picks]. They kept me in the loop a little bit. When DeCastro was there, you got to take him. Some are saying he's one of the best guards in college since Alan Faneca. We hope he can live up to the hype.''

The Steelers offensive line has been criticized in recent years for its inability to protect Roethlisberger in the passing game. The team also needed to upgrade its line because of the uncertainty of the running game.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is coming off surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and may not be able to play the entire 2012 season. The Steelers selected a small, fast running back, Chris Rainey, in the fifth round of the draft on Saturday.

"That's the big question, is how healthy Rashard's going to be,'' Roethlisberger said. "But Isaac Redman stepped up last year, and Baron Batch was injured last year but is a young guy we have high hopes for. And we got the new guy, and we have guys like Jonathan Dwyer. We'll see what happens, but I think we'll be good in that area.''

The Steelers will have a new coordinator running the offense with Todd Haley taking over for the departed Bruce Arians, who's now with the Indianapolis Colts. Haley and Roethlisberger haven't spoken much because of NFL rules, according to Roethlisberger, but he's expecting changes.

"We'll be allowed to talk this week coming up, so I'm looking forward to it,'' Roethlisberger said. "I know it's going to be a lot different offense as far as the wording, the verbiage. It's a lot tougher. I don't want to say we're taking a step back, but we're starting over in learning the offense. You'll see differences in calling plays. But how much we'll run or pass, I don't know.''

When Roethlisberger steps on the field for the first time in 2012, one of his targets for the last eight seasons won't be there with him. Receiver Hines Ward was released and has since retired, and two other long-time locker room leaders, linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith, were also released.

Two other starters, cornerback William Gay and offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu, were also part of the purge, and nose tackle Chris Hoke retired.

"That's the natural progression of our job,'' Roethlisberger said. "You're always losing guys. The locker room won't be the same. You can't replace guys like Aaron Smith, Hines and James Farrior, but it's time for other guys to step up, and my role will continue to grow.''

Roethlisberger turned 30 last month and said he's feeling a little older. He joked during a question-and-answer session with the audience that he'll be 75 percent healthy when the season begins.

He sustained a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns late in the season last year that hampered him the remainder of the season.

"The ankle is doing OK,'' he said. "It's going slower than I had hoped, but it's definitely healing. I feel like I'm getting into the prime of my career. I hope my play on the field shows that.''

Roethlisberger is closing in on several of Terry Bradshaw's team passing records, but he's only concentrating on one of them.

"I couldn't tell you how close I am [for passing records],'' Roethlisberger said. "To me, it's about Super Bowl rings, and I'm two behind him still. To me, it's more about team stuff.''

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