Ben Roethlisberger's body language strongly suggested he'd have stood there all day.
He'd just come off the field at the Rooney Complex Tuesday afternoon, following the Steelers' first open session of OTAs, his expression light, his chin up, palpably prepared as he headed directly into the dozen-thick bank of cameras and microphones at the sideline. And with each question, each answer, he'd glance around the pack as if to plead for more.
Reading between the lines didn't feel all that difficult: This was a one-and-done. Ask about Antonio Brown now. Ask about all the accusations, from AB, from the national media, from anyone at all, but do it now.
So, off we all went, firing away ...
• On how much he took the criticism to heart: "As professional athletes, we always talk about thick skin. Naturally, we have to have it to do what we do and deal with all the things we have to deal with, from media to fans to opposing stadiums, all those things. But I’d be lying if we didn’t say it doesn’t bother us at times. So much ... it does start to hurt. When it affects your family, then it can definitely affect you. Things bother you. You think about it. But you also have to understand that we live in an amazing country, people have opinions and can say what they want. You just have to really focus on the guys that are here and just make sure that they're good.”
• On whether all that got him to think about changing his own approach: "You know, I honestly think that, when you're talking leadership, you're talking relationships. In this sport, relationships change on a daily basis because guys are here and gone. You have to realize what it takes to develop the best relationship you can with each guy. When it comes to leadership ... we didn't make the playoffs last year. So I lacked in leadership. When it comes to leadership and things like that, we didn’t make the playoffs last year. We didn’t win our division. So I lacked in leadership. Because that’s my job as the leader of this team, to get us to the playoffs. I’m going to need to focus and refocus my energy and time on how can I be a better leader to get us back to the playoffs.”
• On what that entails: "Just being here. Being with the guys. To communicate and be the best I can be. And hope I can lead 'em."
• On whether he'll handle his radio show differently: "Well, I haven't fully committed to doing it yet. And if I do, I'm going to do everything I can to make it the best and not offend anybody."
• On the team's leaders maybe taking on a circle-the-wagons mindset after this offseason: "Yeah, probably a little bit. I think everyone. I'm not on social media, but I think it was Ramon or Pouncey that said something like, if you have something to say, come say it to us." It was Ramon Foster. And the target was anyone on the team who might feel compelled to criticize a teammate. "You know, I think that's kind of the mentality we've all taken. Listen, we've been attacked from all different angles this offseason. We just need to stick together and have each other's backs."
• On AB describing Roethlisberger as having 'an owner's mentality': "I don't even know what it meant to tell you the truth, so I didn't really have much of a reaction."
• On how those two fell out: "It was hard to process. Because I never knew anything. The last time we spoke was on Thursday, before the last game." That was the day after the two were known to have had some level of a spat at walkthroughs. "We hugged. We had a great talk. Everything was good. So I knew nothing. So it was hard for me to know anything. And then I heard from a third party that there were issues, so I reached out to him many times. Sent texts. Made calls. This was all before the season was over. Never heard back. So I could never really find out what was going on. For me, that’s why it was so confusing because I didn’t know where it came from. The week before was the Saints game, right? He had an unbelievable game. So I never saw any of it coming. I would have loved to have had the chance to talk to him. That's why I said what I said yesterday. Whatever I did to offend him, I apologize. I tried to do that in person, but he wouldn't allow me to do that."
• On AB taking exception to Kevin Colbert describing the Steelers' roster as Roethlisberger and '52 kids:' “I took it more that he thought I was old. Thanks, Kevin. Make me feel even older now. I didn’t take it as seriously as other people did.”
• On signing a three-year extension and whether he'll still evaluate annually if he'll keep playing: "Three years is what I've committed to the Steelers. And I've always honored my contracts, and I'll continue to honor it. I know I've talked about season-by-season because of injuries and things you can't foresee. But in terms of my commitment to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's three years and I'm going to honor it."
I also got in three actual football questions for Roethlisberger:
Shortly thereafter, following a couple more questions on all the usual fodder, he gave one of those OK-you-had-your-chance nods and walked off the field smiling broadly, pausing to tease new wide receiver Donte Moncrief for doing an interview with his helmet on. I mentioned to Ben that Moncrief was wearing Markus Wheaton's old No. 11 and Wheaton used to do the same.
"That's right," Roethlisberger came back, still beaming, "Crazy, right?"
Headed off to the locker room.
What's past is past.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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