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Refocused, hungrier Roethlisberger prepares for return to Steelers

A week from now, one of the big stories in the league -- maybe the biggest story in the league -- will be Ben Roethlisberger returning to the Steelers after his four-week suspension. What kind of mood will Roethlisberger will be in? Will he be humbled, chastened? And in a football sense, will he be ready to return after the Steelers' bye week to resume his starting role on a Super Bowl contender?

George Whitfield, a quarterback coach from San Diego, was hired by Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, to work privately with Roethlisberger for his four weeks away from the Steelers. Whitfield commutes from California each week and tries to simulate a regular Wednesday-Thursday-Friday practice week at a high school in Pittsburgh. Sometimes Roethlisberger throws to the likes of former NFLer Devard Darling, who lives in the area,and sometimes he uses high school kids. Whitfield puts Roethlisberger through two-hour workouts, which are taped, and then he and Roethlisberger go over the tape to see how he might make slight improvements.

I mentioned this on NBC's Football Night in America Sunday night, but it's worth retelling here. When Whitfield reported to Pittsburgh for the first time, he went directly to Roethlisberger's home. When he walked in, he saw a report on TV that said the Steelers had voted for captains, and Roethlisberger had not been voted one of them. It was an awkward moment, and Whitfield didn't know how Roethlisberger would react. "Ben just said, 'Hey, I put myself in this position. I've got to handle it, and I'm going to hammer my way through it,' '' Whitfield said.

One thing Roethlisberger is happy about, Whitfield said, is to work on some of the mechanical things a quarterback never has time to do during a normal season. "He likes the fact that this is like a one-month mechanics camp,'' Whitfield said. "He's a very self-aware quarterback. He'll say, 'I pat the ball, I overstride, sometimes I'm sloppy in my drop -- let's work on those things,' '' Whitfield said. "I think he's been very happy to be able to take some time to work on things he believes will make him a better player.''

"It's been very interesting,'' Whitfield added. "It's not like I have Mike Tomlin standing behind me to reinforce what I say. But I might as well have. [Ben's] been very coachable. He's fired up to do this. I was a little intimidated at first, because I didn't know what to expect. But he's excited to come to work every day when I'm with him, and he's putting his time to good use.''

After one practice, Whitfield said Roethlisberger took his cleats off and put on some work boots. Roethlisberger said he was going to chop wood at his father's ranch nearby.

"I think he's going to come back sharper and hungrier,'' Whitfield said. "He's really focused right now.''

Now onto your e-mail:

VERY SOON. "When will Leon Hall start getting mentioned in the list of the top corners in the NFL? His diving interception of Jimmy Clauson's pass in the first quarter on Sunday after the Bengals turned it over was a thing of beauty. Broke inside on the post, laid out on a dive and came up with a great pick that kept the Panthers from getting any momentum off the Bengals' slow start. Say what you want about the other top corners, but I think Hall is every bit as good. He just goes about his business quietly. Or maybe he does sound off, it's just that he can't be heard being on the same team with Batman and Robin (T.O. and Ocho). I guess there are only so many sound bites to go around.''-- Mike Strawser, Cincinnati

For a corner to be mentioned in the same sentence as Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha, he has to have a period of extended greatness (as with Asomugha) or a tremendous run on the big stage of a pennant race (as with Revis last year, when he held down so many excellent receivers). But I agree with you. Watching the first three weeks this year, I think Hall's on the verge.

NO. NOT REALLY. "Any meaningful way the Jags can address their QB situation this season? Keith Null and Todd Bouman don't figure to offer much in the way of enthusiasm for a team that desperately needs to sell tickets. Will the Eagles look to move Kolb now that Vick's the starter? He'd at least make things interesting for the remainder of the season.''-- Jeff, Jacksonville, Fla.

The Jags won't get any quarterback who possibly could morph into a quarterback of the future, unless you'd be willing to take a Brady Quinn, let's say. Re Kolb, the Eagles aren't going to do anything with him by the Oct. 19 trading deadline. The Eagles aren't going to trade Kolb and leave themselves without a good safety net for the last nine weeks of the season.

A JAGUAR SEASON-TICKET-HOLDER HAS HIS SAY. "Peter, as a longtime reader of MMQB, I was surprised and disappointed to see your cheap shot at the Jaguars re the tarps on the corners of the upper decks of the stadium. As you well know, Jacksonville is one of the smallest markets in the NFL. Prior to the tarps, it had one of the highest stadium seating capacities. The tarps merely lower the capacity to normal NFL levels. As a Jags fan and season-ticket-holder, I may be getting a complex, but it seems for some reason the Jags have become the trendy team to pick on. I just didn't expect that from you. I realize there isn't much good news being generated by the Jags, but at least be fair -- we've worked hard to avoid blackouts this year by selling out a stadium that is the same size as much larger markets. Now, back to my complex, in your opinion, are the Jags moving to L.A.? If not the Jags, then who (care to place odds)? How will a work stoppage affect L.A.'s push for a team?''-- Dave Burns, Jacksonville, Fla.

Dave, you're right. I deserve a shot for that. If the Jags can sell 68,000 non-tarped seats, that should be good enough for a sellout in a market the size of Jacksonville. Re Los Angeles, I think there will be a team there within five years, and I think the favorite to be that team is either Oakland, Jacksonville or Buffalo. Nothing will happen, as you say, until the labor deal is set, and nothing will happen until there's a set number for the price of a stadium.

THE BUCS ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK. "First of all, I just wanted to say thank you for not doing a rip up of the Bucs, but to put down the Bucs would have stolen away the thunder from your BFF Batch and all your favorite players in Pittsburgh. I think Batch is a stand up guy, Troy P is one of the best football players I have ever seen, Hines Ward is dirty, and Ben is a pig, but I digress. My point is: three plays worth 21 points (touchdowns each with the point after), and it's a different ballgame. Grimm didn't turn around, Talib should have intercepted the ball that landed in his hands instead of tipping it up, and a very large and slow man running that far for a touchdown after a tipped interception. Tomlin was very smart to start Batch, and it's why he is a good coach.''-- Frank, Varico, Fla.

Look, when a team's fourth-string quarterback has the kind of day Charlie Batch had Sunday, it's not the time to say it was a fluky loss, which it sounds like you're saying about the Bucs. I like the Bucs, but they're not in the Steelers' league yet.

HE THINKS I OVERRATE LEON WASHINGTON. "I just want to say that it frustrates me every time you discuss Leon Washington. You always mention that the Jets gave him away for nothing and that they couldn't replace him, but you always leave out important details. For one, Leon is a great player but he was asking for starter money and there was no way the Jets could afford to pay him. Two, he was severely injured and no guarantee to come back 100 percent, so the Jets did well getting a fourth-round pick for him. If you remember, Moss was traded for a second and he is a Hall of Fame wide receiver, not a third-down back and kick returner. Leon coming back is a nice story, but in reality the Jets didn't get hosed. They made a decision not to pay him and traded him away to attempt to get some value for him.''-- Kris, New York

First of all, Washington was dealt to Seattle for a five, not a four, and Randy Moss was dealt to New England for a four, not a two. Look, the Jets were in a position of weakness when they traded Washington, who was coming off a serious injury. But -- and this is a big but -- the Jets had a decision to make a year ago when they had to determine whether to pay Washington more than the reported $10 million in guarantees. They decided not to pay him more, which is their choice. And I think it's an interesting debate about how much a Washington is worth.

THE GIANTS HAVE SOME HOPE, HE SAYS. "Sitting at 1-2, the Giants have been a disappointment. But from watching them this week, I think it's fair to say they still have the talent to get it done. They marched up and down the field for the most part, but made stupid turnovers in the red zone or committed stupid penalties all day long. That is not going to happen every week. I trust that coaching staff will get it fixed. Now, here's where I have an issue. Dallas has the same record as the Giants, yet they're in the top 15. How can you say the Niners have a better chance to turn it around.''-- Matt Zupanc, Branchburg, N.J.

You can't seriously argue the Giants deserve to be ranked among the best 15 teams in football. Come on. If I picked the NFL 1 to 32 right now, they'd be in the bottom 10. The lack of playmaking, the lack of poise ... be fair now.

DWIGHT FREENEY DOESN'T LIKE MY OPINION. Any response to Dwight Freeney's comments in the Indianapolis Star regarding your NFL Preview?-- Joe Hoffman, Indianapolis

I heard Freeney was upset about me not calling him one of the best five pass-rushers in football, and ridiculing me for putting Brian Orakpo on the list and not him. I like Freeney a lot, but understand what that list was. It was a list not just for today; it was a list for today and the future. Freeney's 30, and he'd missed 10 games over the last three years, and I always worry about the athletic pass-rusher once he reaches the point of his career where Freeney is. Will he be a strong pass-rusher for the next, say, three years? Who knows? I could be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.

THE FALCONS DESERVE CREDIT. "All we hear is how bad the Saints kicker is. How come it is so hard to say the Falcons took a step forward and beat the Saints in the Superdome?''-- Andrew, Reston, Va.

The Falcons should be justifiably proud, very proud, for going to New Orleans and beating the defending Super Bowl champs. The point, obviously, is that Garrett Hartley missed an absolute gimme field goal that would have, should have, won the game.

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