“When I was a rookie, I don’t think he was like my homeboy. But now, we’re close,” Wallace said. “Now, I can tell him whatever I want and he’s not going to take it a certain way.”
Call it part of Roethlisberger’s continuing maturation. Entering his eighth year, Roethlisberger has such a command of the system, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believes his quarterback could call an entire game with ease.
“He’s got total control of it,” Arians said.
He showed flashes of it two years ago while throwing for 4,328 yards operating out of a no huddle. Last season, working behind a patchwork offensive line, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the Super Bowl.
Now, the line is healthy and the players at the skill positions have never been deeper. Roethlisberger’s teammates think he could be sitting on a career year and finally join the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the conversation of the best at his position.
“He’s elite,” Cotchery said. “I believe he’s an elite quarterback and I’m not just speaking from a wins perspective. I think he can throw the ball with the best of them and I’ve seen it first hand.”
Cotchery, who could miss the opener with a hamstring injury, remembers standing helplessly on the sidelines last January while Roethlisberger clinched Pittsburgh’s eighth trip to the Super Bowl. The Jets had closed within 24-19 with 3:06 to play when the Steelers took over. Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller for a 14-yard gain then ended it with a toss on Antonio Brown on third-and-6 from the New York 40.
“That last third down, you’re like, ‘Man we haven’t stopped them on third down all game’,” Cotchery said. “So you see Ben roll out to the right and you see Antonio Brown flash and you’re like, ‘That’s it’.”
If the offense stays healthy, Wallace thinks they won’t have to grit out victories at the end. Pittsburgh hasn’t led the NFL in total offense since 1979 when Bradshaw and fellow Hall-of-Famers Harris, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann were lighting up the scoreboard at Three Rivers Stadium.
“I think they most definitely sleep on us,” Wallace said. “Really and truly, I think we’re going to have the best offense in the league. They won’t be sleeping on us for long. We’re going to wake ‘em up.”
It’s the kind of youthful exuberance that would translate into selfishness in other locker rooms. Not in Pittsburgh. Ward is there to keep his teammates in check. He loves their confidence, but knows when to temper it with doses of reality.
Do it in the preseason and nobody notices. Do it in the playoffs and Ward knows you’re tempting fate. He chalked it up to a teaching moment. One of many that could have the Steelers putting up the kind of numbers normally reserved for the Green Bays of the world.
“The sky’s the limit,” Ward said. “We could be as good as anybody. It’s just a matter of just going out there and executing and if we do that, we’ll be fine.”