PITTSBURGH — The biggest news item from the first day of Steelers OTA’s is that starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to be around a lot more during the team’s 10 early summer training sessions than he has in the past.
Roethlisberger thinks that his participation will help from a leadership standpoint, and also from a functional one, so that he can get on the same page as his new receivers.
But there’s a secondary benefit that doesn’t even have anything to do with the Steelers’ offense.
When Roethlisberger is slinging the ball to his new targets with the first-team offense, that’s giving the Steelers’ first-team defense quality reps against one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Even a veteran like Joe Haden, who is in his third season of OTAs with the Steelers, appreciates the chance to face one of the league’s top passers in a practice setting.
“It’s amazing, man,” Haden said. “You can’t get any better practice than by going against Ben. Whenever we get those ones versus ones reps, I’m always super locked in and focused, because he puts the ball on the money. He does a great job of just touch. Wherever he’s got to put the ball, the ball gets there. He can make every single throw. A lot of people say that, but Ben literally can, so I enjoy going against him, because I feel like if I can make plays on him, it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is.”
Of course, Haden felt comfortable saying that on Tuesday, because he intercepted Roethlisberger’s first pass of the session.
“I just told Joe I did that on purpose to get him ready for the year,” Roethlisberger joked.
“Man, I doubt it,” Haden responded, laughing. “I doubt it. I think it was more of a good play on my side. I always love going against great quarterbacks. He puts the ball on the money a lot. He’s going to get me, you know what I’m saying? This was just the first day. I started off one up.”
Passing against the Steelers defense might be tougher across the board for Roethlisberger this summer, thanks to the addition of Steve Nelson from Kansas City. Nelson led the Chiefs with four interceptions a year ago, and adding him to play opposite Haden should give the Steelers a pair of corners that can make opposing quarterbacks pay for wayward passes.
Nelson thinks he can learn from Haden — and not just the first pick of practice on Tuesday.
“It’s great just having someone in the room like that, in his 10th year at a high level,” Nelson said. “It definitely helps me elevate my game. I’ll definitely ask a lot of questions just to see from a different perspective. A guy like that has a lot of experience. You just kind of want to see how he sees things through his eyes sometimes.”
What Haden sees so far is a cornerback group that can be among the best during his time in Pittsburgh, with a little bit of hard work. That’s going to be the focus for his unit over the next nine practices.
“I feel like it’s just everyone doing great communication, creating turnovers, hustling to the ball, catching the interceptions that come hit us in our hands,” he said. “Basically, a lot of fundamentals.”