PITTSBURGH (AP) -Ben Roethlisberger is putting the motorcycle crash, the appendectomy and the multiple concussions behind him. Way behind him, he hopes.
Next up: Making people forget that bad season of a year ago, when the Steelers finished .500, he led the NFL in interceptions and that Super Bowl championship in February 2006 seemed so far, far away.
``Because of the way that I played last season, I felt I let the guys down,'' Roethlisberger said Wednesday. ``I didn't want to let that happen again.''
That's why the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl started working out for this season even before last season's playoffs were over. And if he got on a Harley during the offseason, nobody is coming forward with proof.
Throwing 23 interceptions, getting sacked 46 times and having his head bounced off the Georgia Dome turf by three tacklers will do that to a quarterback, especially one who says he wants to be remembered someday as one of the best to play the game.
As the Steelers prepare for Sunday's opener at Cleveland, his teammates are sensing this is a new, grown-up, take-charge, I'm-the-guy Big Ben.
At age 25, with former team leaders Jerome Bettis and Joey Porter gone, Roethlisberger seems more mature, more eager to take control than he did in his first three NFL seasons - even though he is the same quarterback who won 27 of his first 31 NFL starts.
``I think he's definitely made some self-changes. He kind of realizes he's grown into a leadership role on this team,'' tight end Heath Miller said. ``Whether he's kind of taken it upon himself to take over, it's come to him as the quarterback of the team. You're looked at as a leader.''
Roethlisberger also seems more comfortable with new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians than he did with predecessor Ken Whisenhunt, even though the two won a Super Bowl together before Whisenhunt was hired by Arizona.
When Arians was promoted from his former job as receivers coach, one of the first things he did was sit down with Roethlisberger, review the offense almost play by play and analyze what the QB liked and didn't like.
They also came up with a nomenclature that suited Roethlisberger. And Arians put it on the quarterback to do all the aligning and play changing at the line of scrimmage. Previously, a lineman made those calls for the linemen.
``It seems a lot more has been put on his shoulders,'' Miller said.
Roethlisberger looks to be in better shape, the byproduct of all those extra hours at the Steelers practice complex.
``I feel a lot healthier being able to be out working out a lot earlier than I did last year,'' said Roethlisberger, who missed last year's opener with an appendectomy. ``Working with him (Arians), I feel a lot more comfortable in this offense and where we're at as a team.''
More comfortable, too, in taking charge of a huddle where Bettis, Hines Ward and All-Pro guard Alan Faneca once were the undisputed leaders.
``I think you can see the confidence Ben has in himself,'' Ward said.
Or exactly what Roethlisberger wants his teammates to see.
``I know he's on top of his game right now, and I'm more than confident that he's the guy leading us on Sunday,'' Miller said.
New Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was impressed that Roethlisberger showed up for film study and an offensive staff meeting Tuesday, the players' day off.
``He's a franchise-caliber quarterback,'' Tomlin said that day. ``I just got out of a meeting with Ben. He's been in there all morning. That's what franchises do. Tuesday's an off day, but not for franchise quarterbacks.''
This season, Roethlisberger wants to make sure Sundays aren't a day off, either, for a team that never recovered from a 2-6 start and missed the playoffs despite winning six of its final eight last season.
Starting out with the rival Browns should help.
``People were coming up to me and Alan (Faneca) in the grocery store the other night saying, 'You have to win or the season's over.' Geez, it's the first game of the year,'' Roethlisberger said. ``But we take that mentality that it's a must-win for us because it is a divisional game, it is the first game and it's a start.''

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