PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger had a few days to prepare for the Steelers' padded practices this offseason. Without OTAs or minicamp, the quarterback's first padded reps in front of a live defense came in August, with only media members in the stands.
Still, the heat of the moment had Roethlisberger feeling it. The 17-year NFL veteran has played in three Super Bowls, winning two, but felt those pregame jitters before his first pass since his elbow surgery.
"I've talked to coach Randy [Fichtner] and coach Tomlin a little bit," Roethlisberger said with a chuckle. "We've done some two-minute drills against the defense. I've actually felt jelly legs. I've felt nervous out on the practice field, which I've never felt before. I know that if I'm nervous out there on the practice field now that the games it's going to be a different feeling. That's going to be the last hurdle."
His offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner remembers the encounter. He remembers how shocked he was that his veteran quarterback had some anxiousness during practice.
"I remember him coming off right after the first period, and he said, 'My knees were shaking,'" Fichtner recalled. "I looked at him and said, 'What?' He said, 'Yeah and it was only the media that was in the stands.'"
Fichtner said he doesn't blame Roethlisberger for feeling nervous. No matter how long a player has been in the league, he expects them to gain that excitement that comes before they take the field.
"It was interesting, but it was the first time he has officially been back, has gone through that process of pregame, and it was at night," Fichtner said. "I guess you'd expect that. You know how much he cares and how much he's put in to get back. Hence those feelings are going to happen.
"If you don't have somewhat of a jitter, if you don't have somewhat of anxiousness, you're probably in the wrong sport. It usually disappears after play one."
Roethlisberger said that outside of those early jitters, he's felt healthy since his return to camp. He's only missed one day since the team put pads on, and sees the progress in his elbow.
"I feel really good at making some of the deeper down the field throws," Roethlisberger said. "One of the practices last week, I wasn't able to step into it, and I threw a go ball down the left sideline. It felt coming off my hand that it was going to be short. It ended up making it there in stride. I was pleasantly surprised how my arm strength has come back. Maybe a little better than it was before."
Fichtner confirmed that he believes Roethlisberger's elbow does feel fine through two weeks of pads. The offensive coordinator said he checks on the quarterback every day after practice and has heard only positive reports.
Roethlisberger, however, did acknowledge he'll need to take rest days from time to time.
"I definitely need to give it some time to rest," Roethlisberger said. "That one day off every so often. Just general fatigue and soreness. But it's amazing how fast it bounces back. It feels great the next day. I feel very confident going into a regular season schedule where we get Tuesdays off and Friday's a half day and Saturday's a travel-type day. Those scheduled days off during the regular season are going to be perfect."
With a little over three weeks before the regular season, Big Ben is excited to step on the field for a football game. It won't be the same without fans, which he's a little upset about, but it will give him the last step of his process.
"It's going to be different," Roethlisberger said. "We had our practice with the fake crowd noise. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to run out of the tunnel at Heinz Field. There's nothing better, and I'll never be able to put it into words and described to someone who hasn't been able to do it, what it's like to run out at that stadium here at home with the fans screaming and going nuts, the terrible towels waving. I was looking forward to that. It's going to be different now."
And when he's on the field for the first time in September, whether it's a typical season or not, the Steelers quarterback is ready to be back.
"I'm just excited to have an opportunity to play this year," Roethlisberger said. "After missing last year, I can only focus on this year because you realize you can't look past it. You can't look past one game and one play. To me, I want to give everything I have this year and just really enjoy it because I didn't get to last year."