Absence of Bryant big letdown for Big Ben
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
LATROBE – Ben Roethlisberger will spend the next six weeks getting a feel for potentially the most explosive offense in the NFL. Still, the Pittsburgh quarterback’s mind couldn’t help but wander a bit as he took the field Friday for his 13th training camp.
It’s why he briefly donned a No. 83 jersey during practice to pay tribute to tight end Heath Miller, who retired in February after more than a decade as Roethlisberger’s security blanket. It’s why he couldn’t contain his optimism about the potential of Miller’s replacement, Ladarius Green, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. It’s why he didn’t bother to mask his disappointment when asked about talented if mercurial wide receiver Martavis Bryant’s yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Roethlisberger hasn’t spoken to Bryant since the discipline was announced in March. The two-time Super Bowl winner took the news personally, not just as a teammate but as a friend. When Bryant spent time at a treatment facility in Houston last September while serving a four-game suspension for a previous violation of the policy, Roethlisberger reached out to Bryant daily. To watch him run into trouble again hurt.
“You feel kind of let down, kind of disappointed because it’s like a little brother that you take under your wing that had all the potential in the world to be one of the best,” Roethlisberger said. “But that’s on the football field. I think off the field you worry about him as a man and as a person. I’ve heard he’s doing better now. That’s most important.”
Bryant won’t be back until next spring. The wait won’t be nearly as long for Green, though there’s still no timetable for when the team’s big free-agent signee will see the field. Roethlisberger likened the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Green as a “Ferrari” during organized team activities, albeit one that will remain in the garage for the time being. Green said Friday there’s no reason he shouldn’t be ready by the start of the regular season on Sept. 12 in Washington, though Roethlisberger is anxious to get the feeling out process started.
“I’ve heard a lot of things and enjoy talking to him, kind of picking his brain on some things,” Roethlisberger said. “But I would love to get him out here so I hope it happens soon.”
The one thing that definitely won’t happen is the sight of Miller jogging out to the huddle. He stepped away after 11 years, 592 receptions, 45 touchdowns and countless long talks. Though rookie wide receiver Canaan Severin – who like Miller played collegiately at Virginia – will wear No. 83 during camp, there is no mistaking Severin with the jersey’s previous owner. And to be honest, Roethlisberger would prefer not to see it at all.
“I don’t think anyone should be wearing it right now,” he said. “But I wanted to wear it today hoping that maybe he would appear out of somewhere and come out and play for a little bit.”
Roethlisberger will instead have to settle for an offense that may be the best he’s had since he broke into the league in 2004. The Steelers finished third in the NFL in yards and fourth in points in 2015 even with Roethlisberger missing four games due to injury. His busy offseason included shedding a few pounds and welcoming a third child along with his wife Ashley. The 34-year-old wore a brace on the left knee – the one that sustained a bone bruise in a win over St. Louis last September and forced him to miss a month – Friday as an experiment just to see how it felt.
“There’s no need to do it but we’re going to see and make sure it doesn’t hinder any movements,” he said. “If it doesn’t bother me. I might wear it as a precaution.”
Anything to keep Roethlisberger under center and not standing on the sideline in sweats. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pittsburgh’s 11-7 run to the divisional round of the playoffs last winter is that the Steelers did it without having Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey and running back Le’Veon Bell in the lineup at the same time. Pouncey missed the entire season after getting hurt in an exhibition game against Green Bay and Bell and Roethlisberger played together for about four quarters.
“The key is always staying healthy,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve had a hard time doing that the last few years. But if we can stay healthy and be a selfless team I think we’ve got a chance.”