One series tells Steelers much about Big Ben - and Tomlin, too

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin needed less than five minutes to see Ben Roethlisberger perform in the preseason like former Steelers coach Bill Cowher never saw him play the last two summers.

Three passes, two completions, 73 yards and one very quick, six-play touchdown drive may have been all that Roethlisberger required Sunday night to prove his star-crossed and unfocused 2006 season is behind him and he is rapidly moving on.

Much like the Steelers appear to be doing without Cowher.

Certainly, it was only the first drive in the first of five exhibition games, far too early to suggest this portends the season to come. It was the only drive Roethlisberger played against New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, and he may get only a little more work than that Saturday night against Green Bay.

"It's hard to find a rhythm so early," Roethlisberger said, whose play contradicted his own words.

The precision with which Roethlisberger ran the Steelers' offense during his brief time on the field, and the ease with which he took it down the field, suggests he is far ahead of where he was at this time last year.

Then, he was less than two months removed from the motorcycle accident that caused numerous injuries and left him in far less than peak condition at the start of camp - and, possibly, set him back to the point where he never caught up all season.

The last two preseasons, Roethlisberger played minimally and produced minimally - a total of one TD pass and 256 yards passing in the Steelers' eight exhibition games. Never in that time did he look as locked in and as ready to go as he did during the 20-7 decision over New Orleans on Sunday, and there's still a month to go before the Sept. 9 opener at Cleveland.

"He's having a good preseason," Tomlin said. "It was good to get out, make a couple of throws, move the offense down the field. We went 80 (yards) there in six plays, so we wanted to look at other people."

Even if Tomlin, only the Steelers' third coach since 1969, would like to see a lot more of this Roethlisberger when the games count.

"We have a pretty good young quarterback, and we want to go out and make plays for him," said Cedrick Wilson, who caught Roethlisberger's 55-yard completion on the second play of the game.

The Steelers' first preseason victory since they went 3-1 in 2005 may have created some peeks into what lies ahead for the Steelers in Mike Tomlin, Year I:

  • That pedal-to-the-floor mentality Tomlin brought to training camp resulted in a polished, physical effort that was much further advanced than recent Steelers teams so early in camp. The players didn't like all the two-a-day practices, extra hitting and no days off, but it led to them looking unusually sharp.

Now, Tomlin has to make sure his players remember that the games in September matter, but those in August don't. Even if the Steelers' 0-4 preseason last year led to a 2-6 start and, eventually, an 8-8 record.

  • Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley looks much more ready to contribute immediately than first-round pick Lawrence Timmons, who has spent much of his time since May trying to get over a groin injury.

Woodley played the entire first half filling in at Joey Porter's former spot at right outside linebacker as James Harrison (ribs) was held out. The Steelers outgained New Orleans 305-56 in that half.

"I felt like he was solid but nothing stood out positively or negatively, so we'll take a look at the tape and grade him and see where he is technically," Tomlin said.

  • If new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is trying to disguise that he plans to throw more than predecessor Ken Whisenhunt did, especially during the early downs, he's not doing a good job of it.

Early in the game, as promised, Arians showed off offensive sets with three tight ends or four wide receivers. The idea is to give the offense more options on downs where defenses knew in the past that the Steelers would almost certainly run.

"Coach Arians likes to put the ball in the air," Wilson said. "If we execute, he will do it more often."

One game. One good quarter. One good start for a quarterback who didn't do much wrong his first two seasons or much right during his third, at least not until the Steelers were too buried in the standings to get out.

"We had a good first step," Tomlin said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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