Big Ben: Steelers still confident despite changes

PITTSBURGH -- The losses of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell might temper outside expectations for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not the expectations inside the team's locker room.

Asked about the Steelers' perceived underdog status, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood on track record.

"I'm been here a long time. We're still the Pittsburgh Steelers," Roethlisberger said on the team's first day of minicamp Tuesday. "We're still going to go out and try to win every football game. It's been a long time since we've been to the big one. But, if everyone puts forth the effort we all think we can, with the talent we have in this room, we feel pretty confident we can be pretty good."

For years a trendy top-five preseason pick, the Steelers ranked No. 16 in ESPN's Football Power Index this offseason. The Cleveland Browns are the biggest story in the AFC North, at least for now, after the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr.

Despite falling short of the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record last year, the Steelers never have had a losing season in 15 years with Roethlisberger at quarterback, and they made the playoffs four straight years from 2014-17. Last year's team lost three December games by three points apiece, falling a half-game short of a division title.

After the franchise tag holdout by Bell, now a New York Jet, and Brown's late-season absence before he forced a trade to the Oakland Raiders, Steelers players are eager to keep the focus on football and off dramatic headlines.

"I think things have changed pretty well around here," guard David DeCastro said. "Just coming back and seeing it, talking to people. I'm excited, I really am, just to play football." Asked about tangible differences this offseason, DeCastro said "everyone's on the same page, team-oriented. That's the biggest step."

The onus is on Roethlisberger, last year's passing leader with 5,129 yards, to get the best out of a new batch of playmakers. JuJu Smith-Schuster is building off his first 100-catch season, but starting candidates such as James Washington and Donte Moncrief must prove they fit.

Roethlisberger calls that process an "awesome challenge."

"It's going to be fun if we can produce the way we think we can," he said. "Ultimately what we're trying to do is win a championship. In order to do that, we're all going to have to be at our best."