Ben Roethlisberger's conditioning was placed under scrutiny once again earlier this week, when Jay Glazer of Fox Sports criticized the veteran quarterback's fitness level during a Q&A with The Athletic. While the outside criticism continues to be there for Roethlisberger, he recently received support from Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, who served as Roethlisberger's offensive coordinator from 2007-11. During a recent appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show", Arians lauded his former quarterback's conditioning and overall preparation for the 2020 season.
Arians also unveiled an interesting nugget as it relates to Big Ben's health.
"The last three years, he's been in unbelievable condition, just getting in shape," Arians said. "And I think that arm was hurting him for a year. I think they're going to have a big, big year. I think the Steelers' defense is coming on. They could be right back in the thick of it."
There is some uncertainty as it relates to when exactly did Roethlisberger begin to feel pain in his elbow. While he injured the shoulder to the point of it needing surgery during Pittsburgh's Week 2 loss to the Seahawks, Big Ben was not himself during the Steelers' season-opening loss to the Patriots, a game that saw him go 27-of-47 with 276 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Roethlisberger's struggles continued against Seattle, as he completed just over half of his 15 attempts before sustaining his season-ending injury.
Regardless, it appears that Roethlisberger is on track to put last year's injury woes behind him. During an appearance on NFL Network on Thursday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin also expressed confidence in Roethlisberger as it relates to the upcoming season. Roethlisberger, who is entering his 17th season as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback, is expected to be ready to play by the time the Steelers face the Giants in Week 1 of the regular season.
"As we sit here today, we're extremely confident in his readiness," said Tomlin, who is entering his 14th season as the Steelers' head coach. "We're enjoying the process that he's going through right now. Obviously, it's not without his angst. The guy's coming off of a season-ending injury/surgery. But we like where we are. He's throwing on a rehab schedule and it's going well. We fully anticipate him being ready to go for that opener."
In 2018, Roethlisberger made significant changes to his offseason diet and training routines. Along with cutting out carbs and sugar, Big Ben spent the offseason working with a personal trainer. When the regular season began, a leaner Roethlisberger led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards. He also threw 34 touchdown passes while helping the Steelers boast the league's top-ranked red zone offense. Pittsburgh's offense also broke the team's 39-year-old record for the most touchdowns in a season (53).
Earlier this offseason, Roethlisberger told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he has been working out with his trainer five times a week. He also does cardio twice a week, legs twice a week, and upper body twice a week. He says that he is "lighter and in better shape than I was in either of the past two years. I haven't stopped working out."
While Roethlisberger is doing his part as it relates to getting ready for the upcoming season, the Steelers are also trying to ensure his and the offense's success for 2020. Pittsburgh, after losing Ramon Foster (who retired in March) and B.J. Finney (who signed a two-year deal with Seattle), signed former Eagles and Chiefs offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, a starter on Kansas City's 2019 championship team. The Steelers also spent a fourth-round pick on Louisiana lineman Kevin Dotson, the first player drafted who was not invited to this year's combine.
Pittsburgh has also added new talent at the skill positions. In free agency, they signed former Colts tight end Eric Ebron, who is two years removed from earning Pro Bowl honors after catching a career-high 13 touchdown passes. With their first pick in the draft, the Steelers selected Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool, a big, strong target at 6-foot-4 and 238-pounds who caught 13 touchdowns during his final season with the Fighting Irish. While the Steelers already likes his size and productivity at South Bench, they further impressed after Claypool ran a 4.42-second 40-yard-dash at the combine.
The Steelers spent a fourth-round pick on Maryland running back Anthony McFarland, who clocked the fourth-fastest time in the 40-yard-dash among running backs at the combine. McFarland showcased that speed on numerous occasions during his time with the Terrapins. He had a field day against Ohio State in 2018, ripping off runs of 81, 75 and 52 yards against one of the nation's best teams.
Signed through the 2021 season, Roethlisberger, who turned 38-years-old earlier this offseason,. He's also anxious to get back onto the field in 2020 after missing the majority of the Steelers' games for the first time in his career in 2019.
"We all want to be out there," Roethlisbeger recently said on SiriusXM NFL Radio, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "It's what we love to do, and as a quarterback you feel like 'That's my team out there and I want to be out there leading my guys and I want to help them and I want to do everything I can and be out there and go through the battle with them.' But when you can't do that, it's so hard and it just tugs at you, and so I think it really put a little fire into me, like, 'No, this is not the end for me. This is not how I'm going out. I'm going to go bust my butt and I'm going to give it everything I have to just give myself a chance to come back and try and be better than ever.'"