LATROBE, Pa. -- For Ben Roethlisberger, the loss of Darryl Drake hit home nearly as hard as it did for the players he coached directly.
Roethlisberger had formed a bond with Drake, the Steelers' wide receivers coach who died suddenly at age 62 Sunday morning. And it was a bond that was obvious to his teammates.
"Not many people have changed Ben since I’ve been here," Alejandro Villanueva said. "He started to open up his mind, be a very outspoken leader about the things he thought had to be said. And people respected that, people respond to that."
Roethlisberger said Thursday after the Steelers wrapped up their final practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College that he and Drake had an understanding that went beyond the football field.
"I only knew him for a year and a half. But I think in that year and a half he meant more to me than some people that I’ve known for my whole life," Roethlisberger said. "I know he was an amazing football coach, but he was even a better man, better husband, better father and a better man of God than he was a football coach. So, what he brought to this team and our relationship together was truly something that can never be replicated. He will be very dearly missed, but we know that he is with us and we know he is in a better place."
Roethlisberger had a difficult offseason with the team's trade of Antonio Brown after Brown had trashed him in the national media. But, as the critics piled on, Roethlisberger used some words from Drake to help him through the ordeal.
"The big one he had this year was, ‘Shut out the noise,’” Roethlisberger said. "’Everything that is not important that is not right here. Shut it out and focus on what is important, and that is this group.’”