Why Ben Roethlisberger will use a rugby ball to prepare for Eagles

PITTSBURGH -- Quarterbacks have their quirks. Tom Brady wears UGG slippers. Andrew Luck compliments opposing defenders for big hits.

And Ben Roethlisberger throws a rugby ball.

At the beginning of most practices, the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team will be stretching in unison. Except Big Ben, who is tossing a red-and-black Mikasa rugby ball with an equipment manager. With his target about 15 yards away, Roethlisberger slings the ball underhand, overhand, experimenting with different angles.

As one of the league's biggest quarterbacks, Roethlisberger has no trouble gripping a football. But he uses the rugby ball to work on his command.

"It makes the actual ball feel smaller for practice," Roethlisberger said.

This is also one of Roethlisberger's practices to get the shoulder loose, along with various back-of-shoulder stretches he's learned from trainers.

The backstory behind the ball: About two years ago, Roethlisberger asked the equipment managers if he could bring a rugby ball to practices. But field manager Patrick Noone said the group looked everywhere -- Dick's Sporting Goods, Target, wherever -- and couldn't find the ball for sale.

Eventually, they stumbled across BSN Sports out of Pittsburgh. About $33 later, Big Ben has his big ball.

A regulation rugby ball is about 28 to 30 centimeters, at least three centimeters longer than a football. And though both are about two feet in diameter, this Mikasa ball looks much bigger. Rugby balls are also at least two ounces heavier.

After 12 years in the league, Roethlisberger has maintained superior arm strength. And he's finding creative ways to keep the shoulder fresh, without the rugby-style tackles.

Roethlisberger shares the same agent, Ryan Tollner, as Eagles rookie Carson Wentz. Maybe the two will play rugby catch before the game.