LATROBE, Pa. -- When Ben Roethlisberger really takes ownership of the offense, a coach can feel like he's just leasing it.
Every play has a window for Roethlisberger to change a look if he doesn't like it, a process quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner says works smoothly now that Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have been together for three-plus years.
But Roethlisberger has found a rhythm with his receivers that coaches don't always understand.
"Now he sees looks and says, 'I don’t like my chances here, so he changes it, next thing you know the ball’s to [Antonio Brown], plus 10, damn," Fichtner said. "We’re on the sideline like, 'What did we just do? He just did something as easy as this [makes signal] before he took the snap.They ran a signal the other day and we were like what was that? He ran a skinny post and it went for 70. We didn’t have that signal."
Roethlisberger's trust with Brown in this area resulted in 181 targets last season. The Steelers like calling plays for Brown, but no way they called 181 of them, no matter how good Brown is. Roethlisberger and Brown increased that number by making changes at the line.
The way Steelers receivers see it, Roethlisberger is detailed enough in his communication with the offense that the pre-snap chaos usually works out for good.
"If he wants you to be 18 yards (on a route), you have to be 18 yards," receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. "So you know that going into a play or when a play changes and you're ready for it. He's always working with us, talking about getting our head around, because he's going to throw the ball on time."
Coaches are cool with Roethlisberger's growing command of the offense as long as he avoids unnecessary hits, which he did successfully last year. Roethlisberger was sacked 2.06 times per game last year, his lowest number since 2005.
Fichtner remembers the days Roethlisberger would shake defensive backs off his shoulders and make a play with his legs. He doesn't have to do that anymore.
"Ben Ben is still Big Ben, but he’s not Big Ben like he was nine, 10 years ago, running through dudes, throwing guys off him," said Fichtner, Roethlisberger's coach since 2007. "I’m sure he can be, and he still does at times -- he brings out the Superman cape and you just see it and you’re like 'Holy s---, did he just do that? But he doesn’t have to do that all the time. If he can stand in there and use his good mind and all the good experience he had, he has a chance to be extremely accurate.
"He’s realizing short throws, long runs is a pretty good concept."
Fichtner has noticed improvements in Roethlisberger's leadership, too. As a 33-year-old father of two, Roethlisberger has learned how to "slow everything down and enjoy this stuff," Fichtner said.
"Let the guys know you enjoy it. Be the leader. Check them down. Pull them through the dog day [of camp]," Fichtner said. "You’re the leader in communication."