This time a year ago, not everyone was convinced that Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired elbow would be able to withstand the rigors of an NFL season. Roethlisberger quelled those concerns after helping the Steelers roll out to an 11-0 start. But questions again arose following the Steelers' 1-5 finish that included a wild-card loss to the Browns. And while Big Ben's 17th season did not end the way that he had hoped, he nevertheless finished the 2020 campaign with an impressive 33 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games while helping Pittsburgh capture its first division title in three years.
Roethlisberger can't control some of the radical changes that have taken place in Pittsburgh since the end of last season, specifically the loss of four of his starting offensive linemen. He has, however, found a unique way to learn first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada's new playbook.
"My daughter makes flash cards for me," Roethlisberger said during Pittsburgh's first day of training camp. "We've done that, we've made them together and there have been some quizzes at home. It's become as much of a mental offseason as it has physical in terms of learning new things. … It's a high percentage of new. It's a challenge."
Physically, Roethlisberger said his arm "feels a lot fresher" than it did at this point last summer.
"This time last year, I had thrown thousands of footballs trying to get ready for this," he said. "Today was the first day I had a ball thrown since minicamp, other than throwing to my son in the backyard. It just feels more normal of an offseason. My arm feels really, really good."
Roethlisberger admitted that his body began to wear down near the end of the 2020 season. He explained why he does not think that will be the case this season.
"It helps that I haven't thrown 10,000 footballs in the offseason," he said. "Also, I think having the potential for a normal football season. Three games in 12 days (which the Steelers did between Weeks 12-14) would wear anybody down. I think just physically I'll feel better just in terms of my arm."
Roethlisberger said that it was "tough" to see so many of his former teammates on the offensive line -- most notably former center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro -- depart this offseason. That being said, Big Ben expressed optimism in Pittsburgh's new linemen, specifically rookie center Kendrick Green. Green, who wears Pouncey's old No. 53, received starting reps during Pittsburgh's first training camp practice. Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Green will start the Steelers' first preseason game against the Cowboys.
"You'll never fill the shoes of Maurkice Pouncey, and I don't think Kendrick is trying to do that, which is good," Roethlisberger said. "What happened today was Kendrick made calls. We didn't fumble any snaps, so I'd say that's a good first day."
Roethlisberger's fitness is seemingly always a storyline. A photo of Roethlisberger entering Pittsburgh's facility on Thursday morning made the rounds on social media. Earlier this month, a report surfaced that Roethlisberger's offseason diet was even stricter than Tom Brady's legendary regimen. And while he has yet to try avocado ice cream, Roethlisberger acknowledged his continued focus on fitness and nutrition as he prepares for his 18th NFL season."
"I think as you get older, we all have to find ways to exercise more, eat better," Roethlisberger said, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "I've been doing that for a few years now. ... You work on exercise. You have to do everything you can to get yourself ready to play this game at this age and for this many years."