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Big Ben challenges his offensive line

PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has challenged the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive linemen to play with more of an attitude.

And he would love nothing more than to see a combination of swagger and nastiness from his personal protectors as the Steelers try to dig their way out from an 0-3 start.

"Be tough. Be nasty," Roethlisberger said Wednesday before the Steelers' first practice of the week. "If you have to get a penalty because you're going to be nasty, a holding penalty or you're going to choke someone out on a run play ... I don't always think that's a bad thing if you get a penalty every once in a while because you're playing tough and nasty compared to not getting any penalties and just playing passive.

"I know the O-line coach [Jack Bicknell Jr.] probably didn't want to hear me say that, but I just want them to have the confidence to go out and play the way that I know they can."

The Steelers have used two first-round draft picks and two second-round selections on their offensive line since 2010. They are still waiting for more return on those investments.

"We're tired of hearing how bad of a line we are and how young we are," tackle Marcus Gilbert said. "We want to try to be the best. We're capable of doing it. We just have to show it on the field and earn the trust of the quarterback and the coach. I think that's building and that's the most important thing."

Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times this season, and the Steelers are 31st in rushing offense (51.7 yards per game).

Criticism for the offense's struggles has been heaped on a Steelers line that is adjusting to a new position coach and lost its best player on the first possession of the season when center Maurkice Pouncey tore his ACL.

That scrutiny led Roethlisberger to tell the linemen privately last week that they simply needed to believe in themselves more.

"We're trying to be so perfect assignment-wise that we're not going out there and being as aggressive as we can be," right tackle Gilbert said. "I think we just have to forget about that and go out there and play football.

"It's always been known for years that a Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman is nasty. We have to get back those days. It got better last week and we look forward to it getting better this week and get this win."

The Steelers meet another winless team Sunday when they play the Minnesota Vikings in London.

Roethlisberger said the line showed significant improvement last Sunday night as the Steelers rolled up 459 yards of total offense in a 40-23 loss to Chicago.

The return of tight end Heath Miller, a punishing blocker, has helped the line. It could get another boost if rookie Le'Veon Bell emerges at running back after coming back from a mid-foot sprain.

In an interview with SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger was not ready to declare if Bell would be back this weekend.

"One day he's practicing, one day he's not. One day he's going hard, one day he's not. I wish I could (tell you) if he was a guy like Heath Miller who you knew was busting his butt every day to get back there," Roethlisberger said.