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QB Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are Steelers' happy pairing

Todd Haley said a stronger bond was forged with Ben Roethlisberger during the offseason, when the quarterback invited his offensive coordinator to a charity golf event he holds every year and "we shared the same cart for five or six hours."
Todd Haley said a stronger bond was forged with Ben Roethlisberger during the offseason, when the quarterback invited his offensive coordinator to a charity golf event he holds every year and "we shared the same cart for five or six hours."(Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports)

Todd Haley knows all about Ben Roethlisberger making something out of nothing.

As the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009, Haley watched the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback overcome one of the worst performances in Super Bowl history that year with a game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the waning seconds.

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Now, as offensive coordinator with the Steelers the past two seasons, Haley has often seen Roethlisberger turn a seemingly certain sack or another potential negative yardage play into a first down or even a touchdown with a combination of smoke, mirrors and pure muscle.

While Roethlisberger rarely is mentioned with the likes of the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees — the three quarterbacks currently considered the best in the NFL and among the best of all time — Haley seems happy to be on the same sideline.

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"He's a unique, special talent playing the position," Haley said after a practice during the team's training camp. "He's an elite quarterback. He's an elite competitor."

Asked whether his perspective of Roethlisberger has changed since joining Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's staff in 2012, Haley said: "He took a Super Bowl ring from me, so I hated him when I had to play against him. I love him when I'm with him.

"I knew he was a very good quarterback. Obviously I saw it up close and personal. But I think he's far better than what I thought he was from the outside," Haley said. "He has everything he needs all the time. He's accurate, he's got great anticipation, he can change the trajectory on the move, he makes some bad body throws that are off the charts."

Haley said Roethlisberger's ability to make something out of nothing stands out.

"There were plays early on in my first season where other quarterbacks I've been with, something breaks down and you're going back to the huddle already," the coach said with a smile. "I got my head down [looking to call the next play] and he's throwing it 60 yards down the field and making a play."

Going into his 11th NFL season, Roethlisberger said recently of training camp that "it's a lot more mental preparation than it was before. Now you understand the game, understand the offense. Now it's just making sure you're on the same page with the guys."

It's not just a changing cast of teammates, but of offensive coordinators as well.

The marriage of Roethlisberger and Haley — the third coordinator of the 32-year-old quarterback's decadelong tenure in Pittsburgh — has not always been peaceful and productive.

While Roethlisberger had his flare-ups with previous coordinators Bruce Arians and Ken Whisenhunt, a public outburst after an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 led him to apologize to Haley.

Despite winning six of their last eight games — with Roethlisberger throwing for 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions — the Steelers finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight season. It marked the first time in more than a decade that the team had missed the postseason in consecutive seasons.

In an interview on a local radio show in June, Roethlisberger said of his dealings with Haley: "There was an obvious growing period. You develop a relationship. I enjoy working with him. I think we have a good relationship now."

Haley, who had a publicized spat with wide receiver Anquan Boldin in Arizona as well as with quarterback Matt Cassel when he was head coach in Kansas City, said it wasn't a surprise that he and Roethlisberger weren't immediately in sync.

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"It is developing a relationship. That doesn't happen fast or quick. It takes time to get to know people, especially in this competitive business, where there's the highs and lows in an NFL season," Haley said.

"But that's happened. Each year the comfort level between both of us has increased to now where we're at the point where it feels normal, the way it should be. I'm excited about that."

Guard Ramon Foster has seen a change in "the communication" between them.

"I think there are things that Coach Haley has done and Ben has done that the other may not have liked, but I can see that the relationship they have is growing and our offense is going to flourish behind it," Foster said.

Said veteran tight end Heath Miller: "Certainly the longer you're with someone, the more comfortable you feel with what you're expected to do. The coach feels more comfortable with what your assets are or what you're comfortable with as a player. In both cases, as a coach and as a player, you play to the other's strength."

Haley said a stronger bond was forged during the offseason, when Roethlisberger invited his offensive coordinator to a charity golf event he holds every year and "we shared the same cart for five or six hours."

Not only did it help their relationship, it also validated what Haley thought about Roethlisberger as an athlete.

"Anything you watch him do — hit baseballs later in the camp or hit the golf ball — he's an elite athlete," said Haley, who played golf in college and tried briefly to do it as a pro. "What he's done and what he's accomplished speaks for itself. The great thing with him is that he's not satisfied. He wants to do more, and that bodes well for the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Haley believes that the passion he and Roethlisberger share will be channeled in the right direction in 2014.

"Our common bond is that we both want to win, and do whatever it takes to win," Haley said. "I'm not a system guy. It's not my offense. I want it to be our offense and be tailored to our players' strengths, especially our really good players."

Miller attributes more of last season's struggles to the opening-game season-ending injury to center Maurkice Pouncey and the subsequent 0-4 start that put the Steelers in a hole from which they couldn't recover.

"You don't go into any season expecting to be four games behind," Miller said. "It was a first for us. We have to learn from that last year and do our best to start off this season on a good foot and put ourselves in a better position."

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Steelers by the numbers

0

Passes thrown by a backup quarterback in 2013. Ben Roethlisberger was only quarterback to take snaps last season.

4

Losses to begin the 2013 season. The Steelers lost six of the first eight before winning six of the final eight.

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67

Passes caught by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who left as a free agent for the Denver Broncos.

14

Ranking among NFL teams for franchise value ($1.35 billion) in Forbes Magazine.


Three things that need to go right for Steelers

** Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have to throw the ball 584 times as the running game finds its footing.

** The defense, led by No. 1 pick Ryan Shazier and a healthy Troy Polamalu, forces more turnovers and becomes feared again.

** Mike Tomlin sticks to the sideline and doesn't wander onto the field during kickoff returns.

Three things that could go wrong

** The defense continues its preseason struggles and can't stop anybody.

** Without a running game, Roethlisberger has to throw more than 600 times without his No. 2 receiver from last season, Emmanuel Sanders.

** Injuries, injuries, injuries. The Steelers have been hit particularly hard the past few seasons and can't reverse the trend.

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