Ben Roethlisberger on outlook with 2019 Steelers: 'I feel like I love football again'

Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of his 16th training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. 

And there's nowhere else he'd rather be. 

While some players over a dozen years his junior are struggling to get through camp, Big Ben is running around with the joy and energy of a rookie. Roethlisberger's newfound passion for the game was on full display during a recent practice when, on a designed quarterback sneak from his own 1-yard-line, he elected to sprint 99 yards to the opposite end zone. On his way there, he decided to play some pitch and catch with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who gleefully obliged his quarterback across the goal line. 

If his recent actions aren't convincing enough, Roethlisberger, during an interview with Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, confessed that he has gone through a rejuvenation period after navigating through the storm of what was the 2018 offseason. 

"I feel like I love football again," said Roethlisberger, who signed a two-year contract extension earlier this offseason that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2021 season. "I told my wife when I was home the other day, she was asking how it was going. I said I feel like I love football again. She got a big smile on her face and said it made her happy to hear that."

Mrs. Roethlisberger isn't the only one that is happy to see a refreshed and refocused Big Ben. Pro Bowler Alejandro Villanueva, who is entering his fifth season as Pittsburgh's starting left tackle, said that Roethlisberger's attitude has lifted the spirit of the entire team.

"Ben has always been an amazing player to play for because he transmits a lot of that competitive edge to the players," Villanueva said. "You don't know if you should be competitive all the time [during practice] and when you play with Ben, you realize you have to be competitive all the time.

"For him to come out to practice every day ... come out in all the periods, give the best he can, is something that's contagious to us younger guys that are following his lead." 

Everyone that's been present during the early portions of Steelers' camp has marveled at the positive vibe that seems to have spread through the entire Saint Vincent campus. Gone are the Le'Veon Bell holdout stories, the mysterious Antonio Brown training camp injuries/disappearances, and player suspension distractions. And while Pittsburgh's preseason goal of winning the Super Bowl has never wavered, the Steelers are not burdened this summer with the national media pressure of being considered a favorite. Instead, Pittsburgh has been labeled with the underdog tag, a narrative that is more than fine with them. 

"Just having that chip on our shoulder and having people doubting us, I think it's something we can use to our advantage," veteran cornerback Joe Haden said during the spring, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Just come out here and grind."

The Steelers, even without Brown and Bell, are still front-loaded with talent. Pro Bowlers Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro anchor the offensive line, while fellow Pro Bowlers Smith-Schuster and James Conner have become Pittsburgh's new dynamic WR/RB duo. Pittsburgh's returning offensive starts will be flanked by newcomers Donte Moncrief, Benny Snell, and Diontae Johnson. Moncrief, a veteran receiver who caught his first career touchdown pass against the Steelers, has already provided a veteran presence to Pittsburgh's receiving room. Snell comes to the Steelers as the University of Kentucky's career rushing leader, while Johnson, a former standout receiver at the University of Toledo, has been one of the standout players during the first week of Pittsburgh's training camp. 

Pittsburgh's defense, a unit that has slowly but surely rebuilt itself in the years since they were led by the likes of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, could potentially be better than the Steelers offense in 2019. 

Defensive tackle Cam Heyward, the defense captain, is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh's first-round pick in Pittsburgh's fruitful 2017 draft, seems destined to surpass Harrison's franchise-record single-season sack total after totaling 13.0 sacks in 2018. Newcomers Steven Nelson and Mark Barron will add depth and veteran experience to the unit, while inside linebacker Devin Bush, the 10th overall pick in the draft, continues to show why the Steelers traded up in the first round of the draft to secure him. Pittsburgh fans also shouldn't sleep on Terrell Edmunds, last year's first-round pick who is out to prove that he is the team's long-term solution at strong safety. 

The Steelers are also counting on a bounce-back season from kicker Chris Boswell, who reportedly made each of his first 15 field goal attempts during camp that included a 52-yard attempt during Thursday's practice. 

At the center of this nucleus of players is Big Ben, the man who, two years after openly contemplating retirement, has rediscovered a love of the game that at some point left him during the last few seasons. While this doesn't guarantee success for the 2019 Steelers, Big Ben's renewed passion and infectious spirit can only help Pittsburgh on their road to redemption. 

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