PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger just finished a turnover-free training camp, and he did it while spraying the football all over the field.

Usually that last part is not a good thing, but it’s not supposed to be. Call it bad for a good reason. By design, many of Roethlisberger’s preseason practice throws are slightly — sometimes wildly — off the mark.

“Bad completions,” Roethlisberger calls them.

Roethlisberger will toss high, low, left, right, into the back of a defender’s helmet, whatever gets a reaction out of his pass-catchers in the name of in-game adjustments.

Or boredom.

“It’s easy to hit a guy in the chest in stride. I’ve been doing this a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s more fun, challenging and it helps me learn guys when I put the ball all over the place so they can practice going low, going high.”

Roethlisberger’s latest victim is free agent addition Justin Hunter, a lanky 6-foot-4 outside weapon with a 39.5-inch vertical. The former second-round pick has underachieved with 76 catches over four seasons, but he’s never played with a high-level quarterback, either.

Roethlisberger, an aficionado of big targets, can’t hide his excitement with Hunter, saying he’s done some “really good things” in camp. During a recent goal-line sequence at St. Vincent College, Roethlisberger launched a pass about 12 feet in the air. The ball sailed out of bounds, but barely. Hunter almost had it.

“The one in the corner, right?” said Hunter about the play, accepting the challenge. “Wherever he throws it, I’m ready to go get it.”

Roethlisberger knows.

“I can miss Justin about as high as I want to and he can go up and get the ball,” the quarterback said. “It helps you learn things about guys.”

Third-year tight end Jesse James knows this routine well. Roethlisberger likes to go off script with tight ends, particularly in the red zone. Roethlisberger’s favorite trick is throwing a lob pass toward the back of a linebacker’s helmet, James said. The tight end must go over the top for the grab. On back-shoulder throws, James must turn his hips at the appropriate angle to make the snag.

Retired tight end Heath Miller had sure hands, so James must adjust to every ball on the fly.

If he doesn’t?

“He’s not happy, I’m not happy,” James said.

And James will hear about a mistimed route with a “come on, that’s one you’ve got to make” from Roethlisberger, James said. The two will then discuss the play during a free moment in practice.

For James, playing with a top-shelf thrower offsets the occasional uncomfortable drop.

“He’s the type of guy, one of those few types of quarterbacks in the league who can locate the ball where he wants it every time he has a chance,” James said. “Take advantage of it. Make yourself better. Those come out on Sundays sometimes.”

Roethlisberger’s goal for this tight-end routine is pretty simple: “See how guys bend.”

To be sure, this is a Roethlisberger thing, not a Steelers quarterback thing. Backup Landry Jones is simply trying to hit his targets in stride.

“I don’t have that luxury,” Jones said with a laugh.


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