LATROBE, Pa. -- Ben Roethlisberger's first two seasons are unmatched by any quarterback in NFL history. Not many have had a worse season than he did last year.
From his scary motorcycle crash to an appendectomy, the multiple concussions and the many interceptions, it was a forgettable and, in part, regrettable season for Roethlisberger. He didn't resemble the quarterback who was 13-0 during the regular season as a rookie in 2004 or, the season after that, the one who became the youngest to win the Super Bowl.
"It was a bad year," Roethlisberger said.
That's why he was so eager to distance himself from a season that couldn't have started much worse, with him on the sidelines after having his appendix removed four days before the opener. He also sustained two concussions, threw a league-high 23 interceptions and was sacked 46 times, twice as many as the season before.
Roethlisberger also lacked the we'll-get-it-done-somehow confidence of his first two seasons and, at times, it seemed he was also missing the trust of former coach Bill Cowher.
Any wonder Roethlisberger began working out for this new season in mid-January, only a couple of weeks after the Steelers' 8-8 season ended and much earlier than in the past?
"He has behaved like a franchise quarterback," new coach Mike Tomlin said. "I know he is very motivated and very competitive. I know on a personal note he has some critics to answer to, which is great."
Roethlisberger, sweat still dripping off his face moments after his first full practice under Tomlin ended Tuesday, said the only critic he must satisfy is the one in his mirror.
"I've got to prove it to myself," Roethlisberger said. "You can say all you want, that you've got to prove it to the fans, the media, to people, I'm just trying to go out and prove to myself that I can do it, that my career's not over and last year was just a fluke."
Roethlisberger's comedown was a steep one - he was greatly responsible for the Steelers' 2-6 start - partly because his ascension was so remarkably fast. Only four months after leading the Steelers to three consecutive road playoff victories and their first Super Bowl title in 26 years, he nearly died of head and chest injuries in a crash made worse because he lacked the protective helmet Cowher all but begged him to wear.
Roethlisberger recovered faster than expected from the accident, missing no time during training camp, only to have the appendix attack. He returned for the Steelers' second game, a 9-0 loss in Jacksonville, but played poorly to set the tone for his season and his team's.
"When you turn the ball over, it kills you, it kills the drive, it kills the team," Roethlisberger said. The season, too."
The Steelers rallied to win six of their final eight, but it wasn't enough to make the playoffs or to persuade Cowher to stay for a 16th season. Once Cowher resigned, Roethlisberger revealed he and the coach weren't always the best of buddies.
"Our relationship wasn't great," Roethlisberger said. "He was here before I got here and I was just a young kid."
Make that young and stubborn. Roethlisberger hasn't been spotted on a motorcycle since the accident, but Cowher clearly felt his quarterback betrayed his teammates' trust by not wearing a helmet, endangering his health and their season.
Now, teammates such as Willie Parker are lobbying for the 25-year-old Roethlisberger to be a team captain.
Roethlisberger attended all the offseason workouts, helping new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians rewrite a playbook that gives the QB more responsibility and options. Look for more no-huddle looks, spread formations and multiple receiver sets that should allow Roethlisberger to throw shorter and more accurately and avoid the numerous downfield interceptions of a season ago.
Roethlisberger will make all the calls and checkoffs at the line of scrimmage, including those for the blocking schemes. It's another big change during a season in which he's dealing with a new head coach, coordinator, quarterbacks coach (Ken Anderson) and, even, a new center (Chukky Okobi or Sean Mahan).
To show how ready he is to move forward, Roethlisberger jumped in Monday and ran the 14 110-yard runs that Tomlin required of the players who missed some offseason practices, even though the quarterback was excused from doing so.
"He's always been a captain, now he's got to be a bigger captain," Parker said. "We've got to rely on him a little more now."
Roethlisberger is ready for that, too.
"It's good to be able to come here and just concentrate on football," said Roethlisberger, who was answering endless questions about his crash a year ago. "I feel better than I've ever felt, even better than I did coming out of the draft and getting here my first year."
Wide receiver Hines Ward senses he is watching a changed quarterback.
"I know he wants to bounce back," Ward said. "Last year, Ben put a lot of pressure on himself to win games himself. This season he's eager to let us be ballplayers and let us take the pressure off him."