By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Before Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 13 straight wins in his rookie season in 2004 and a Super Bowl championship a year later, he was the first-round pick waiting for his chance.
Roethlisberger entered his rookie year as the Steelers’ third-string quarterback, but he was ready. After an injury to veteran Tommy Maddox, it was Roethlisberger thrust into action. He never looked back in becoming the franchise quarterback in Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“I thought the speed was a big deal,” Roethlisberger said on a teleconference Wednesday, reflecting on his rookie season. “I thought complications of defenses — when a defense sees a young guy that hasn’t played the game, they like to throw different looks at him. They’re not going to line up in a 4-3 or a 3-4 base defense. They’re going to throw different looks at you, different blitzes to try and confuse you. The confusion between the ears part is really one of the biggest keys to it.
“It’s understanding that you don’t need to make the big play every time. It’s OK to run the ball. Sometimes in third-and-medium to third-and-long, instead of trying to force something and the potential of a turnover, sometimes running a draw or a screen or a quick pass and punting the ball isn’t always a bad thing as a rookie. It may not be what the fans want to see or teammates want to see, but sometimes a punt is good when you have a young quarterback.”
Roethlisberger knows well the situation of Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft who’s waiting for the opportunity to lead. The two share the same agency, Rep 1 Sports, and worked out together before the draft.
“I thought he was a tremendous athlete,” Roethlisberger said ahead of the Bears hosting his Steelers on Sunday at Soldier Field. “I thought he could throw the ball. I thought when he got out of the pocket and made throws on the run, his improvising. I got to watch some of his college tape, just really impressed with the athleticism. The ease of throwing the ball, it just looked easy to him when he was on the run, when it wasn’t supposed to be super easy. So I thought that those were the most impressive things that I got to see. Obviously not sitting in a meeting room and knowing his smarts or things like that, but just the athleticism.”
The early successes of Roethlisberger are heralded in Pittsburgh. He went unbeaten as a starter in the 2004 regular season, leading the Steelers to the postseason. As a 23-year-old in his second season, he won a Super Bowl ring.
Roethlisberger’s key to success was managing what a defense threw at him – even beyond that rookie season. He experienced new looks even in his second and third season. Because of that, Roethlisberger said he never evaluates the greatness of a quarterback until they can surpass the challenges of those first three seasons.
“People in the media and the ‘professionals’ in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great — this, that and the other,” Roethlisberger said. “Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years, after defenses understand what you’re bringing, you’re not a surprise anymore.
“It takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”
Veteran Mike Glennon will be the Bears’ starting quarterback Sunday. Despite Glennon’s poor performance in a blowout loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday, Bears coach John Fox is standing by him and leaving Trubisky waiting in the wings.
But waiting isn’t necessarily bad for a young quarterback. Though Roethlisberger thrived as he was thrust into action early, he knows that learning off to the side could’ve been beneficial.
While Trubisky has the talent to play, Roethlisberger knows he must be patient.
“I mean, yeah, you want to get out there, but you also understand that this is a different ballgame than college,” he said. “Of course, you want to play. But you don’t want to just get thrown in not ready to go. You’re OK being patient trying to learn the offense because you don’t want to get out there and look bad or let your teammates down.
“So you kind of want to say, ‘All right, I want to learn this offense to the best of my ability. I want to know exactly what I’m doing on this look, this play, this check. So that when I am called, I am as prepared as I can be, I don’t let guys down.’”