Ben Roethlisberger was the subject of an extremely positive interview session late last week, while Roethlisberger and his teammates were in the midst of their first week of training camp. Big Ben, who missed 14 games last season following elbow surgery, said that the surgery has taken away the pain that had lived in his right arm for the past several years. Along with his surgically repaired arm feeling good, Roethlisberger said he is physically and mentally ready to pursue multiple Lombardi Trophies before he hangs up his cleats for good.
"He seems kind of lighter, a positive attitude, happier," DeCastro said of his teammate of nine seasons, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "I think the biggest thing with Ben, it's not just that he's a talented player, it's what he does for the people around him. He has the ability to make you play better, forces you to play better because he expects it. It's similar to Pouncey in a way in that good leaders aren't just good players. You have to have that ability, but they demand your best when you're out there. You call in line. That's a true leader. He has that presence in the huddle. He expects the best from you. He expects you not to lose. I've been around him over the years, he's always had that. It's part of what makes him great.
"But he seems happy. He's lighter on his feet. Just having a good time. Being out last year I'm sure it hurt. That's not easy on your mental health. We're all enjoying it. We all know we're old. It might be [left tackle Alejandro Villanueva's] last year. [Maurkice] Pouncey and I are getting old, too. Who knows what's going to happen? We're trying to enjoy it the most we can."
DeCastro went onto say that some of his offensive teammates are seeing the "light at the end of the tunnel." As he mentioned, Villanueva, a six-year starter on Pittsburgh's offensive line, is entering the final year of his contract. Pouncey, an eight-time Pro Bowl center, has two years left on his current deal. Roethlisberger also has just two years remaining on his current contract, although he hasn't ruled out the possibility of playing beyond the 2021 season. But it's hard to imagine Roethlisberger playing without Pouncey, his best friend on the team. In fact, Big Ben has said on several occasions that he will continue to play as long as he has Pouncey -- as well as the majority of his offensive line -- playing in front of him.
While Pittsburgh's offensive line is going through a transition, several other parts of the Steelers' roster are beginning to come into their own. The Steelers' defense, after being the weaker of the two units during the "Killer B" era, has evolved into one of the league's best after acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick two games into last season. Pittsburgh's receiving corps is also evolving into what could potentially be a special unit. Diontae Johnson, who flourished last season despite not having Big Ben as his quarterback, is excited to finally get a chance to play with Roethlisberger during his second NFL season.
"I feel like Ben's arm is way better than it was last season," Johnson said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Being able to catch the ball from him, I'm excited. I want to help him win games and make him look good."
Before his time in Pittsburgh is finished, Roethlisberger and his teammates want to maximize the remaining time they have together. That means not only enjoying each other's company, it also means continuing to pursue winning a championship, something that no one else on Pittsburgh's roster, besides Roethlisberger, has experienced.
"I think any athlete, any competitor, will tell you they want to go out on their own terms," Roethlisberger said from training camp. "And it doesn't happen all the time. We don't always get that lucky … I think if I had felt that I was closer to the end, it might have been a decision for me to think longer about coming back or not. But I didn't feel that I was close to that. I'm not saying that I have 10 years left in me, but I definitely feel that I have some really good years left in me. That was definitely a motivating factor; coming back and showing that I still have it in the tank. I still have a lot to give this team. I still have a lot to give the fans. And I still want to win Lombardis, and I say that with a plural on the end."