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New Steelers OC Matt Canada: 'We're going to do what Ben wants to do'

JOE RUTTER
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) in action during an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Matt Canada made one thing clear Tuesday in discussing changes he is bringing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first year as offensive coordinator:

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't bend to his system. The system will bend to Roethlisberger's comfort level.

"We're going to do what Ben wants to do," Canada said, "and how Ben wants to do it."

Canada is the fifth offensive coordinator the Steelers have employed since Roethlisberger made his debut in 2004. From Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians to Todd Haley to Randy Fichtner, the Steelers offense has been constructed around Roethlisberger's strengths.

Canada, speaking publicly for the first time since he was promoted to offensive coordinator in January, said that approach will not change even though his offenses historically have featured presnap motion, jet sweeps and play-action passing.

"Our job is putting every player in position to make plays," Canada said, using a phrase he repeated often during a 15-minute interview. "There are changes with terminology, how we're calling things. That has been an adjustment for Ben, and he's learning it and doing really well with it and has adapted easily.

"That is our job. Matchups are how you win football games. Ben, it starts with the quarterback — what does he do well, what does he like, what does he see, what is good to his eye in the passing game, and we build off that.

"His voice, his vision and what he sees is what we're going to do."

When the 39-year-old Roethlisberger spoke with the media during organized team activities, he described the verbiage surrounding Canada's system as "definitely harder" than what he learned under Fichtner and his predecessors.

"When you've had the same offense or a similar offense for 17 years and then, all of a sudden something looks the exact same, but it's called something completely different, it's very difficult and it is a big challenge," Roethlisberger said.

The three-day minicamp that is taking place this week at Heinz Field is another opportunity for Canada and Roethlisberger to mesh the offense to their liking. Although no contact is permitted, the Steelers will be doing 11-on-11 formations for the first time this offseason.

"We've had a good installation plan," Canada said. "We have to know where we're going and what we're doing, and we're taking whatever pace we can handle it and put in as much as we can by day and by week. I think the players have handled it very well and been very receptive to it.

"We're not making drastic changes. It's terminology and the ways we want to call things. Guys have been great, and I feel like we've had a great work environment from all sides — players and coaches."

Roethlisberger said he is willing to take more snaps under center, something the Steelers did just 17% of the time last season. And Canada believes play-action, which Roethlisberger typically shuns, is necessary if the Steelers are going to improve the No. 32 running game from 2020.

"Ben can do everything really well," he said. "I don't have any concern about Ben doing anything that we want to do. If you're going to run the football, play-action is very important, and we have to run the ball."

Canada stressed that tempo — and changing it throughout a game — is a component of his offense. It also emphasizes matchups that will reduce the predictability that plagued the Steelers late in the season when they faded to a 12-4 finish and first-round playoff exit after an 11-0 start.

"We'll run the ball when we have to run it, and we'll throw when we have to throw it," he said. "After that, we're going to do everything we can to get our players — and we've got a lot of really good ones — in position to make the plays their talents direct us to do."

That includes wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who wants to play more outside this season after taking about 80% of his snaps in the slot last year. Canada didn't commit to appeasing the fifth-year receiver other than to say, "JuJu is going to be excited and happy when we win."

Canada also is in favor of using the fullback, which is good news for Derek Watt, who logged just 52 offensive snaps in 12 games in his first season with the Steelers.

"To the point of matchups and personnel changes, it gives defenses more to worry about," he said. "It always benefits if the production is there and there's a reason to do it. Having Derek and his ability to play is great. With wideouts, tight ends, backs, our job is to find matchups and where they are, and he definitely fits into that."