Less than one week into training camp, Arians' assessment of his quarterback: Never been better.
Arians can't remember Roethlisberger being in such good shape or throwing the ball this well so early during any of his previous six camps. Roethlisberger has yet to have a pass intercepted during team drills, and he has gone entire practices without throwing an incompletion.
"He's in the best shape I've ever seen him," Arians said Tuesday. "His arm is live, and he has no interceptions and very few incompletions unless they were dropped. This may be the best I've ever seen him right now."
Roethlisberger is quickly alleviating any Steelers worries that he might be distracted or preoccupied with the offseason accusation that he sexually assaulted a Georgia college student. Roethlisberger wasn't charged following the March incident, but the NFL suspended him for six games -- a punishment that could be shortened to four games.
Roethlisberger admittedly was worried before camp opened about how the fans would react to him, given the intense criticism he received following the accusation. So far, there been no sign of hostility at Saint Vincent College, no booing or discernible anti-Roethlisberger sentiment.
"You can tell he's been working to improve himself," wide receiver Hines Ward said.
Instead, Roethlisberger has looked so sharp, Arians is focusing more time on figuring out what the Steelers will do offensively during the suspension.
The answer: Probably not as much as they could if Roethlisberger played a full season.
Byron Leftwich, who's all but certain to start for the Steelers while Roethlisberger sits out, possesses an intimate knowledge of the offense and throws the deep ball well, but he isn't as mobile.
Dennis Dixon, a third-year pro from Oregon, runs better than any Steelers quarterback since Kordell Stewart but has only started one NFL game. He'll likely begin the season as the starter if Leftwich is hurt.
Arians believes Pittsburgh's offense can be as good as it was last season, even though Roethlisberger can play no more than three-quarters of the season. Roethlisberger threw for a career-high 4,328 yards in 15 games in 2009, and Hines Ward and the now-departed Santonio Holmes each had more than 1,000 receiving yards.
"We want to improve the running game, but we damn sure don't want to step back in the passing game," Arians said. "We want to have another 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers, and I don't care who they are. Now put the running game back to where it belongs, and I think we're pretty potent offensively."
Returning the running game back to a Steelers-like level -- Pittsburgh ranked an uncommonly low 19th in rushing last season -- was believed to be a major priority. But the necessity of preparing two starting quarterbacks in camp, one to start the season and the other to finish it, is shifting some attention away from that.
Arians and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin still aren't saying how much Roethlisberger and Leftwich will play during the four preseason games, beginning Aug. 14 against the Detroit Lions. Because the starters rarely play past the first quarter, except during the third preseason game, there probably won't be enough snaps available for both quarterbacks to play with the starting line.
Regardless, Arians dismissed the speculation that Roethlisberger would play only with the starters to avoid injury.
"We did that (played the starters longer) two years ago and the guys wore out," Arians said. "It's a fine line. And I like our backup line. That whole second group, I don't mind putting anybody out with them. ... We're not afraid to throw the football because somebody might get hurt. We'll wait and see, but I would not see us giving our first team offensive line extra snaps."
Roethlisberger can't practice during his suspension, so the only work he'll have with the offense until October will be during camp and in the preseason games.
"He's still driving the bus, and he wants to be good in every drill -- and when we get competing, that's Ben," Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said. "He's competing at a high level right now because he knows the importance of the carryover he'll have for later."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press