Ben Roethlisberger has already been where EJ Manuel wants to go.
More than once actually.
So forgive the still raw Buffalo Bills quarterback if he spent part of Wednesday’s joint workout with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a peek at how two-time Super Bowl winner Roethlisberger went about his job on the other end of the practice field at Saint Vincent College.
“To see Big Ben in action, see how he prepares for every practice, how he goes in and out each day is just a huge opportunity for me,” Manuel said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it.”
Like Roethlisberger, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Manuel is nearly as big as the guys tasked with bringing him down.
Like Roethlisberger, Manuel is hoping to lead his team to a championship in his second year in the league.
“Early in his career, he took those guys to the Super Bowl,” Manuel said. “So to get an opportunity to get a chance to come up and practice with him is awesome.”
And that’s kind of the point. The Bills are spending the rest of the week in western Pennsylvania to break up the monotony of a lengthy training camp and also to get a feel for what an organization considered one of the league’s finest looks like.
Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley spent a decade in Pittsburgh’s front office before joining the Bills in 2010. Whaley admitted he felt “giddy” while making the familiar drive from the city to Latrobe, about an hour southeast of the city.
“It’s like a second home,” Whaley said.
One that he’s trying to emulate in Buffalo.
Asked what he’s hoping his team will glean from the Steelers and Whaley just smiled.
“Their toughness and their idea that nothing less is expected than a championship,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to get to. Practicing against these guys ... will hopefully rub off on our guys.”
Maybe that’s why the two hours they shared the field felt almost gentlemanly. A day after the Raiders and Cowboys engaged in a particularly ugly brawl, the Bills and the Steelers were on their best behavior.
Outside of a couple of post play dustups, there were no fireworks, just football.
“We like to turn on the TV and see gory, unfortunate incidents like what happened between Dallas and Oakland and we’re here to prove that two teams are capable of coming together and doing it in a productive, professional manner,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Besides, there’s way too much at stake for both teams to waste time beating each other up.
Buffalo is trying to remake its image under second-year coach Doug Marrone. The Bills have a dynamic playmaker in rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who beat Steelers starting cornerback Cortez Allen for a long touchdown during a 7-on-7 drill.
While Manuel said no practice can quite meet the speed of the game, he wasn’t complaining about the tempo.
His rookie season last fall included a lifeless performance in a 23-10 loss to the Steelers, a game in which Manuel passed for just 155 yards, most of them coming in a meaningless drive in the final minutes with the game well out of reach.
Though he took a tumble while stepping up in the pocket in the face of the Pittsburgh pass rush, Manuel was pleased with his team’s progress.
“We got it rolling,” he said. “I got a chance to go with the first and second group. The more at-bats I get, the happier I’ll be.”
A decade into his career, Roethlisberger doesn’t need quite so many reps. Still, he knows his batch of inexperienced receivers need as many chances to go against new faces as they can get.
“You go against the same guy every day and learn how he is,” Roethlisberger said. “To have a new defensive back to go against is good for them.”
Whaley said the Bills have not received any calls from teams interested in running back C.J. Spiller. Whaley called speculation Spiller is on the trading block “news to me.”
Tomlin said LS Greg Warren suffered a “potentially significant leg injury” during practice. FB Will Johnson and S Will Allen left with hamstring strains, while G Ramon Foster and LB Jarvis Jones sat out.