Optimistic Browns better watch out for Big Ben
June 28, 2008
The Cleveland Browns have become a trendy pick to win the AFC North next season.
Ben Roethlisberger would not agree. The Steelers' quarterback still likes the Steelers. And with training camp still about a month away -- long before injuries and unforeseen circumstances could dramatically change things -- I tend to agree with Roethlisberger. I think the Steelers are the team to beat in the AFC North.
I mention this only because I recently read comments made by Roethlisberger while conducting his summer youth camp. Roethlisberger sounded like a happy camper. He talked about winning another Super Bowl. He talked about beginning his second year with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and reaching a new comfort level with the system. Roethlisberger talked about becoming a more vocal leader at age 26, knowing that is part of a quarterback's job.
Every NFL player is optimistic at this time of year, but Roethlisberger sounds ready to embrace his role as a franchise player. The $102 million contract extension he signed last March will make his heating bill in Pittsburgh a lot more affordable, even at today's prices.
The Steelers have been there, done that. They are used to winning division titles. They have key players like Hines Ward, Willie Parker, and Troy Polamalu who have played big in big games. They are accustomed to handling high expectations.
This is a new situation for the Browns, who are coming off a 10-6 season in which they barely missed the playoffs. It was only the Browns' second winning season since 1999. Now the Browns are expected to win, and that's a different kind of pressure, one some teams have trouble getting used to.
I'm looking forward to Week 2, when the Steelers visit the Browns, and to Dec. 28, when the Browns visit the Steelers in the regular season finale. The Steelers beat the Browns twice last season. The Browns can't let that happen again, not if they are serious about winning the division.
My biggest question about the Steelers regards their offensive line, which lost guard Alan Faneca to the Jets in free agency. Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times last season, and that total would have been higher if Big Ben went down easily.
Protecting Roethlisberger is a major issue, but with Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller and rookie Limas Sweed, Roethlisberger has plenty of targets to throw to when given time. The Browns have made personnel changes on defense, bringing in Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers to bolster the defensive line. But I still think the Steelers' defense is better.
This won't make me very popular with Browns fans, even though I like their team and think they could make the playoffs as a wild card. But if he stays healthy, Roethlisberger sounds like a player poised for a big season. It may not be enough to get the Steelers to a Super Bowl, but I still think the Browns will have a tough time dealing with Big Ben.
Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.