View Full Version : Absent Big Ben still the talk of minicamp

05-02-2010, 10:25 AM
Absent Big Ben still the talk of minicamp

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sport ... icamp.html (http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sports_details/article/1501/2010/may/02/absent-big-ben-still-the-talk-of-minicamp.html)

Sunday May 2, 2010 06:02 AM

PITTSBURGH — Usually at minicamp, it’s the new draft picks who create the big buzz. But not this spring, not with Ben Roethlisberger still the hot topic.

This weekend as the Steelers convened for five mandatory practices, a small group of veterans overshadowed the arrival of No. 1 pick Maurkice Pouncey and the rest of the draft class.

At the center of the media attention were the quarterbacks who were working out and the QB who isn’t here because he’s banished for the time being.

Newly acquired Byron Leftwich was a story because he ran the first-team offense. He was followed in the pecking order by Dennis Dixon, who’s wearing a new number this year, and 36-year-old Charlie Batch, the oldest player on the roster.

Those three quarterbacks will continue practicing for 12 more allowed off-season workouts.

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, isn’t allowed at team headquarters as he complies with the behavioral evaluation stipulation that was part of his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy during his 28th birthday bar-hopping binge last month.

Roethlisberger’s involvement with a 20-year-old college student from Georgia on March 5 has embarrassed the NFL and the Steelers, who have never had to deal with something like this in their 78-year existence.

“I don't know how the season’s going to go. That’s what is uneasy, the uncertainty,” veteran wide receiver Hines Ward said. “As of now, we don’t have a starting quarterback. It’s kind of like quarterback by committee, and so the uncertainty of that issue plays on a lot of guys’ minds. You don’t know who your starting quarterback is.

“It’s on guys’ minds, but it is with it is. They came down with a suspension of six games. Is it disappointing? Yes. It’s hard to go into a season without your star quarterback.”

Last season when Roethlisberger missed an AFC North Division game at Baltimore due to re-occurring symptoms from a concussion, Ward caused quite a stir by questioning Roethlisberger’s mental toughness in a nationally televised interview.

On Friday, Ward again made a bold statement by saying that he has no problem with the severity of Roethlisberger’s suspension.

“I think the suspension was justified,” he said.

Like Ward, veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton also had plenty to say about Roethlisberger and the situation he’s put the Steelers in.

“It’s really no different for me out there (on the practice field),” Hampton said. “I guess if I was on offense, it’d be different. (And) make no mistake about it, in September, when you start the season without your quarterback, it’s going to be different.”
Advertisement Wedding Guide

Roethlisberger will definitely miss the first four games: home against Atlanta, on the road against Tennessee and Tampa Bay, and home against Baltimore. He could also miss a home game against Cleveland and a game at Miami, but he’s hoping the suspension will be reduced from six to four games.

Hampton said he looks forward to the day Roethlisberger returns and questioned those who suggest the Steelers should have parted ways with their franchise quarterback because of his off-the-field issues.

“He made some bad decisions, but everybody does that,” Hampton said. “The biggest thing Ben does is win games on Sundays. And anybody who helps us win is going to be welcomed back.

“People can say this and that, but if he comes back and we win, it’s going to be, ‘Ben’s great again.’ If he loses, then he’ll be on the way out. I definitely know that if he comes in and does what he can do, he’s definitely going to win games for us. So, it’s not going to be a big deal.

“The same fans who say that he should be cut are the same ones who will be cheering for him if we win the Super Bowl,” Hampton added. “If anybody lets that caliber player go, it’s going to hurt them. There’s no question about it. There’s a reason we kept him. At the end of the day, he helps us win football games, and in the end that’s what it’s all about.”

Based on minicamp, it appears Leftwich will be the quarterback for the Steelers’ first four games. At least, it appears the starting job is his to lose.

Even though Dixon was the backup to Roethlisberger and started that Nov. 29 game in Baltimore, it appears coach Mike Tomlin prefers the experience of Leftwich, an eighth-year pro with 49 career starts.

“The rotation after this? I don’t expect it to change,” said Dixon, a third-year pro who’s switched his jersey number from 2 to 10.

Leftwich, who was Roethlisberger’s backup in 2008, claims that it’s too early to start thinking about who’ll start at quarterback on opening day.

“It’s only May,” said Leftwich, who started the first three games at Tampa Bay last year before losing the starting job. “Right now, it’s so far away from when that decision has to be made.

“Like I said (when I got here last week), I’m not worried about that. I just want to make the most out of every rep that I get and try to make something happen. I pretty much know the system. They know what I can do as a player. They know my strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll make the decision when the time is right.

“I just want to make the best of it.”

05-02-2010, 12:10 PM
Ben will be the talk of our franchise. What he was involved in is a BIG part of our history now. Right up there with Bradshaw/Hanratty/Gilliam, The Emaculate Reception, Steel Curtain, Myron Cope, Holmes (Ernie Shooting at cops), Bradshaw vs Noll, Bam and the CHRONIC, "The Wreck" and Neil O'donnell. That "Black Eye" will be there forever, no matter what happens.

05-02-2010, 03:37 PM
Five storylines to follow as Steelers open minicamp

April 30th, 2010

It sure has been a busy off-season for the Steelers, an off-season that the franchise would rather forget. The off-season was marred by off-the field transgressions that put the image of the team through the proverbial tar and feathers.

But come Friday, the healing process will begin in earnest as the team will concentrate on what it is paid to do: play football!

The spring minicamp is set to begin today and the Steelers will trot out their shiny new rookies along with some grizzled veterans while trying to avoid the Ben Roethlisberger circus. Roethlisberger is not expected to report to minicamp, rather opting to return to town in the summer with a full circus in tow.

It’s time to flip the page and get back to what this franchise wants: a return to the playoffs.
Friday will provide an early guide on where they stand with their personnel and what steps they have to do to make sure they are indeed what many people feel they are: a playoff team
With that said, here are five storylines that have to be addressed as the team prepares to avoid distractions and go about winning football games in 2010.

1) Big Ben’s absence: How do you replace Roethlisberger’s production?

I don’t want to go into the damage that Roethlisberger did to the image of the Steelers, as that has been discussed ad nauseam here, ESPN, Mars, etc., but rather on how his 4-6 game absence will impact the team on the field. On the field, his absence will be a huge void to make up for and it is up to Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and the newly reacquired Byron Leftwich to step up and take the reigns. It’s going to be tough to replace the numbers (4,328 yards, 26 touchdowns and 66.6 passing percentage) Roethlisberger put up, and whoever steps up and wins the job will only be keeping the seat warm when Roethlisberger returns. Everyone is expecting that Roethlisberger will only serve four games of his conditional six game suspension and during the minimum four games Roethlisberger will miss, the team has at least two very winnable games (home against Atlanta and at Tampa Bay) with all four (also at Tennessee and home against Baltimore) not being that daunting. Baltimore is challenging, yes, but the fact that it will be a home game gives the Steelers a fighting chance.

Just stay par for the course while at least going 2-2 and the season is salvageable. However, the frenzy when Roethlisberger returns will be the true barometer on how this team faces adversity. At least the anticipated return game is at home against a sup-par team in the Cleveland Browns.

2) Just how healthy is Troy Polamalu?

No need to tell the Steeler nation just how different this team was last year when Polamalu was on the field as opposed to when he was sidelined with two different knee injuries. In 2008, Polamalu had a fantastic season with seven interceptions and was the heart and soul of the defense that led the league in passing defense(first overall as well) en route to its sixth Super Bowl Title. Fast forward to 2009, Polamalu goes down with an injury after its opening week win over the Tennessee Titans and then misses the next four games with the team losing its initial first two games without him then regrouping to win its next two games. Polamalu then comes back with the team stable at 3-2 and they proceed to go 3-1 and looking like a playoff contender at 6-3. Polamalu then suffers what would be a season-ending knee injury and the Steelers would lose four games in a row (including some head scratchers to the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs) and play their way out of playoff contention despite winning their last three games. The end result would be a defense that went from the best passing defense in 2008 down to 16th in the league last season. His presence on the field makes that much of a difference.

Now, just how healthy is Polamalu? Well, he participated in team workouts a few weeks ago, something he usually never did in the past, and he seems invigorated while trying to avoid missing any more time. Polamalu is not even wearing a knee brace these days, as he was suggested to do. It will be encouraging to see him out there this weekend. Keeping Polamalu healthy is priority number one.

3)What can we expect from the draft class?

While the Steelers took Florida center/guard Maurkice Pouncey with their first selection, and he is expected to come in and contribute right away, it will be the infusion of three linebackers that will be the talk of the camp.

The selection of linebackers Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson and Stevenson Sylvester will give defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau more ammunition and depth to implement his 3-4 defense. They will be on a learning curve and will learn from some great veterans in LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and James Harrison. You’re not looking for a lot with these guys right away, but they can give the team a glimpse of its future. This will be a deep unit with lots of potential.

The other rookie who will have a lot of eyes on him will be Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer has a world of potential and can be a great sidekick to Rashard Mendenhall. Dwyer dropped in the draft due to a failed drug test at the NFL combine. Dwyer said it was because he was taking prescription drugs that he has NFL clearance to take. Dwyer is said to be tad too slow and un-athletic as well. In the sixth round its worth rolling the dice, and Dwyer will make a lot of GM’s regret passing on him as he might vulture in for a few TD’s this season.

4) Can Mike Wallace step up and replace the production of Santonio Holmes consistently?

Roethlisberger was not the only one making off-the field headlines this off-season as Holmes was also accused of assault this spring while also failing another drug test. That was enough for the Rooney’s to ship him off to the New York Jets for only a fifth round draft pick. The Steelers didn’t want to deal with the headache he causes off-the field, but on-the field, Holmes production must be replaced and Wallace is the likely player who will have to step up his production. Wallace had a solid rookie season last season with flashes of brilliance. As with all rookies, there was a maddening bout of inconsistency, but you saw the potential. You know the dependency that Hines Ward presents, but Holmes was a solid wingman that will be equally tough to replace.

Wallace had 39 receptions for 756 yards and a solid six touchdowns. Wallace has great speed and last year he was either boom or bust. Wallace is on a learning curve and as they say most wide receivers don’t break out until their third year in the league. Until Wallace can step up and be more consistent, Roethlisberger (and Leftwich, Dixon or Batch in the beginning) may lean on veterans’ Arnaz Battle,Antwaan Randle El and Heath Miller outside of Ward. I doubt rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown see much time outside of special teams’ duties. So the onus is on Wallace to stay ahead of the curve and give the Steelers QB a constant deep threat.

5) Does the 2010 reunion show rejuvenate the Steelers or make them a step slower?

The Steelers did not actively pursue any high-priced free agents this season. Instead they opened up their checkbook to their own players while reacquiring some old familiar faces. The Steelers resigned DT Casey Hampton, safety Ryan Clark, OT Willie Colon and kicker Jeff Reed while saying goodbye to Willie Parker and Deshea Townsend. While resigning four of their own, the Steelers also brought back into the fold some past Super Bowl winning contributors in Randle El, Larry Foote, Leftwich and Bryant McFadden. None of the aforementioned are spring chickens but they do possess certain intangibles that can’t be overlooked and that is bringing in a positive winning attitude. These aging vets know they are replaceable and that will make them work that much harder.

This is the last stand for many veterans as this team is built to win now. If the Steelers implode and Roethlisberger becomes unhinged because of all the distractions, this team may opt to go in another direction.

Alas, this minicamp will have a sense of urgency like no other minicamp. The camp, and the coming weeks, will test the intestinal fortitude of the Steelers as this is a make or break year for Pittsburgh. Let’s hope the veterans and new rookies mesh and put a bad chapter, in what has been a thrilling ride, behind them.