PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger believes his right arm feels as good as it has in years.
The same goes for the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s body, save for the occasional unwanted collision with a teammate.
If the scariest moment Roethlisberger endures all season is the accidental blindside hit from right tackle Marcus Gilbert — who inadvertently knocked the wind out of Roethlisberger during practice last week, sending a brief scare through the organization and sending Roethlisberger into the concussion protocol as a precaution — the franchise’s all-time leader in nearly every significant passing category will take it.
“Hopefully, the hardest hit I take all year is from Gilbert and we can laugh at it at the end of the year,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh on Tuesday.
Maybe, but nobody was laughing when Roethlisberger’s familiar No. 7 was kneeling on the turf at Saint Vincent College. He took a pair of concussion tests and passed them both, clearing him to make his lone preseason appearance on Sunday when the Steelers host Tennessee.
It’s been more than eight months since Roethlisberger last faced guys in different-colored uniforms, when he threw for a franchise playoff-record 469 yards and five touchdowns in a playoff loss to Jacksonville.
Until the 2017 offseason — when he waited weeks before announcing his return — Roethlisberger said right away he would be back in 2018, an endorsement of both the coaching staff and the talent surrounding him in the huddle.
Saturday will be the first time Roethlisberger will be hearing Randy Fichtner’s voice in his headset during a game. The Steelers promoted the longtime quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in January.
Though the low-key Fichtner carries himself differently than his predecessor — the fiery Todd Haley — Roethlisberger expects the offense to “pretty much stay the same.”
That’s hardly a bad thing for a group that finished third in total yards while going 13-3 in 2017. The key to earning a fifth straight playoff berth will be turning all those yards into a few more points.
Pittsburgh was eighth in the league in average points per game (25.4) due in part to some red zone issues. The Steelers finished a middling 18th in turning red-zone possessions into touchdowns (53 percent).
Pittsburgh drafted former Oklahoma State star wide receiver James Washington in the second round, and Washington had a pair of touchdowns last week against Green Bay by outjumping the defender on a 50/50 ball.
It’s something they’d like to see more of this fall in general, including from second-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. He wowed at times during his rookie season. Now comes the hard part as the firmly established No. 2 alongside All-Pro Antonio Brown: doing it again.
“The key for him is how can he bounce back and not just put together a good year like last year but be better,” Roethlisberger said. “It starts with work and he put in a lot work, effort and time. I am looking forward to what he can do this year.”
Roethlisberger isn’t quite sure how long he’ll get a chance to be on the field with Smith-Schuster and the rest of the starting offense this weekend. A couple of scoring drives early would likely make Roethlisberger’s appearance a mere cameo.
A slow start might result in a bit of a longer stay. Regardless of how he feels, he still expects there to be some issues adjusting to game speed even entering his 15th season.
“It’s live action,” Roethlisberger said. “We have been at practice and everything gets a little faster, a little quicker. I hope I don’t get hit, but it’s always good to knock that rust off, too, at some point.”
WR Eli Rogers was suspended for one week by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Rogers is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from a torn ACL. Rogers is not expected to be ready by the opening week of the season.