Ben Pushing His Receivers

Markus Wheaton

Ben Roethlisberger understands that time is of the essence, and that the Steelers' receivers need to become HIS receivers very soon.

The ball whistled past Justin Brown's face just as he was making his out cut near the sideline. So, when the second-year receiver finally did turn, all he could see was an angry quarterback.

"Come on!" Ben Roethlisberger shouted. "Get your head around!"

Roethlisberger, who's coaching up his receivers -- even his veteran receivers -- like never before, may as well have said to Brown, "Hey, I'm 32 years old and I don't have time for this!"

That's the non-verbal message Roethlisberger sent late in February when he called Brown, Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye out for a business trip to California.

"I offered it to everybody," Roethlisberger said. "But most importantly it was [Wheaton], Derek and Justin just to work with them and get a feel and try to get an early start."

Roethlisberger has been in Lance Moore's ear, too, about an early start after the veteran receiver signed with the Steelers a day after they unexpectedly lost Jerricho Cotchery.

"Ben's made it a point to come to me and talk about things day in and day out," said Moore. "I'm making sure if I have any questions I'm going right to him."

Roethlisberger has shown great urgency in turning the Steelers' receivers into HIS receivers this spring, and with good reason.

"It's real important," he said. "Lance and I were just talking about doing some hand signals and working on things that he's new to. These are good days that we don't have to worry about pads and getting hit, and guys can really just focus on the routes and the things that they're supposed to learn, the mental part."

Roethlisberger demanded "the mental part" from his receivers Wednesday as the Steelers worked on their no-huddle offense in the final scrimmage period. The exchange with Brown was one example of the offense's early-June sputters. So, too, was the fact the first team remained on the field throughout the entire period.

"That's the first time we've done that," said Moore. "Generally we sub guys in and get the twos and the threes in there, but today he wanted to go the whole time."

And Roethlisberger appeared less than thrilled with the results.

"No. We've got to make more plays. We can't leave so many yards out there on the field," Moore said, before adding: "If you would've told me a month ago that we would be doing no-huddle on the fourth or fifth OTA, I would say you're crazy. But it's awesome."

And it's necessary, mainly because of the two additions to the 3-receiver lineup.

Moore is a ninth-year vet who roomed with Steelers backup QB Bruce Gradkowski for three years at the University of Toledo. Moore was cut four times before latching on with the New Orleans Saints and becoming one of Drew Brees' go-to guys and winning a Super Bowl following the 2009 season. The 5-9 receiver has 346 career catches.

Moore's working as the Steelers' No. 3 receiver behind Wheaton, the 5-11 flanker who has only 6 career catches. The third-round draft pick last year had his rookie season mangled by a broken pinky that required screws and "all kinds of had-to surgeries."

Wheaton is quick to add "That's in the past and it's not bothering me now."

And he's proving it throughout a spring in which he's been a consistent playmaker as both a deep threat and while running after the catch.

"He showed a little bit of that last year at training camp," said cornerback William Gay.

"Every time I covered him he went a hundred miles an hour. I used to tell him in walk-through, 'Look this is walk-through. Slow down.' But he's one of those guys who just needs to get his tempo right. He's very professional and I look forward to him having a big year this year."

Gay, a slot corner, also has an appreciation for Moore, the slot receiver.

"He's quick, hard to defend," Gay said. "He's going to add flame to the fire over here. Wheaton is a young guy coming along, and with AB (Antonio Brown) on our side we've got a great group that can be scary."

The sooner the better. Certainly, Roethlisberger would agree.

NOTES -- Fullback Will Johnson was in a boot Wednesday after spraining his left ankle at Tuesday's practice. He said he'll be back next week. ... Also missing Wednesday were Troy Polamalu, Jordan Zumwalt and the injured Jason Worilds. ... On the recommendation of Mel Blount, the Steelers signed California (Pa.) wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (6-3 190), who caught 11 passes for 126 yards and 1 touchdown for the Vulcans last season. Goodwin worked at Blount's youth home. To make room for Goodwin, the Steelers released WR Jasper Collins.

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