Steelers Big Ben finally chimes in

Justin K. Aller

For years, Steeler Nation has wanted and waited for its franchise QB to act like a franchise QB; to be the face of the franchise and the consummate leader of the team. Now that he has begun speaking like a leader, what's all the fuss?

I firmly believe Ben's reticence at calling out teammates (whether behind closed doors or as he did with Bell) is a result of his past transgressions and a fear/concern over whether he has the standing to pass judgments as required by a leader. Well, he does. He does both by the nature of his position/role on the team, and he does because he's turned the corner himself. The past is the past; learn from it, don't ignore it but don't let it continue to impede your growth or silence you in the future when your team needs a leader and a focal point to rally itself around.

For the vast majority of his career, the Steelers' franchise quarterback has been a silent leader, allowing his on-the-field achievements to speak for themselves. Now, despite a 0-3 start and 4 fumbles and interceptions of his own, he decides to speak out.

In July, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called for Ben Roethlisberger to take a more active and vocal leadership role.

"He needs to be what his teammates need him to be, formally and informally, on the field and off. Not only is he a capable player, but he's a veteran one. He understands the drill, what we're doing here and what we aspire to do. He needs to be a shining example of all of those things for our young players."

While the "shining example" part has been tarnished by Roethlisberger's performance over the first three games, nonetheless he has taken his coach's words to heart and is fulfilling the franchise QB's role as the vocal and visible leader in the locker room and in the public media.

While many in Steeler Nation have expressed reactions ranging from "...who are you to be speaking out with your performance so far..." to "...this is so unfair to Bell..." to "...how dare he speak publicly", I for one applaud Roethlisberger for finally acting the part of a leader and speaking out. I applaud both his statement to his offensive line, and his comments about rookie running back Le'Veon Bell.

What Roethlisberger has shown with his latest leadership actions is both encouraging as well as evidence of a level of adroitness one would not expect from a person just starting to exercise his leadership mandate.

Encouraging because, as has been demonstrated on the field so far this season, the Steelers have no identity; they aren't known as a passing or running team, nor as a winning team, and neither their offense nor defense is viewed as being tough. While Troy Polamalu may be back to "being Troy", the defense doesn't instill fear in anyone, and the offense's inability to act as a uniform, cohesive unit has emasculated the talent the individual players obviously have (or why were they even drafted?).

A sign of adroitness because Roethlisberger demonstrated an understanding that the same message often times needs to be sent in differing ways to separate recipients.

For his offensive line, his front line troops with whom he has gone to battle with before, his message is one of "damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead; if you get penalized for being nasty, for exerting your will on the opponent, so what? Just do it, I'll take care of the consequences". He has given them permission to make a mistake and has unfettered them from the shackles of hesitancy he believes may be holding them back from playing effectively.

For his injured rookie back, the unproven yet anointed-by-the-masses savior of the Steelers' running game, his message is "damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead; we know you're injured, but so was Heath Miller; you need to fight your way back onto the field like he did, but I'm not seeing it". Whether this is factually accurate is beside the point; great things are being expected of Bell, especially from the man who will be handing him the ball, and he is telling Bell to unfetter himself from the shackles of his recovery process Roethlisberger believes may be holding him back from being able to help the team in its hour of need.

As Tomlin put it in his training camp interview:

"Different people need different things from him. He's got to provide them what it is they need. Maybe it's a pat on the back, maybe it's a kick in the butt, maybe it's individually, maybe it's collectively. He and I spent a lot of time talking about those things, and he understands it. It's a very complex balancing act, but one that I think is done naturally for those that play that position. The men who play that position, particularly as long as he has, understand what comes with it."

Roethlisberger may be having one of his worst seasons ever, so far, and many in Steeler Nation use this to invalidate his attempts at rallying the team. The question is, if not Ben, then whom? No one else has stepped up; "anonymous sources" feed information and comments to the media, but no one else has stepped forward and claimed the mantle of leadership. LaMarr Woodley hasn't, Troy Polamalu hasn't, nor has Brett Keisel. No one else on the offensive side of the ball has demonstrated an iota of being the player others can rally around; not Miller, Ramon Foster, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer or anyone else. Many of these players may be performing well as individuals, but that isn't what the team needs right now. The Steelers need a leader.

They need someone to rally around, to make them believe they are better than they see themselves to be, to reach deep inside and place into their franchise quarterback's hands everything they have to give, every ounce of determination, sweat, strain, and the fortitude to overcome their pain, inexperience and shortcomings for the sake of their team. Coach Tomlin can lead them to the site of the upcoming battle and provide a strategy to win, but he doesn't execute the plays. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau can provide their respective charges with the tactical plans to execute, but they aren't the ones fighting off blitzing linebackers or breaking up third and long pass attempts.

Big Ben has led this team to two Super Bowl victories, not the head coach, not the offensive coordinator. Only Ben Roethlisberger can affect what happens in the battle itself. For the offense, he and he alone can put them into position to score points; for the defense, what he accomplishes on the field with the offense directly results in where the defense has to take the field to stop the opposition from scoring. Yes he has turned the ball over 8 times so far this year, and it has cost the Steelers points and possibly the chance for victory, but the Steelers would never have reached the Super Bowl in 2005 if it weren't for Roethlisberger's performance in that season's playoffs. James Harrison's dramatic interception return for a touchdown in 2008's Super Bowl would have been for naught had it not been for Roethlisberger leading the team down the field on the Steelers' final drive, culminating in his amazing pass to Santonio Holmes.

Few players remain from the dark days of his boorish behavior culminating in his suspension in 2010; fewer still from the glory days of 2008 and even fewer still from the days of his reckless behavior in his early years. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger is not perfect as his infamous and well known past proves, but he is finally emerging from the shadows of that past and, correctly or incorrectly as to manner or form, is calling forth to his teammates to heed his words and follow his lead. This is the dawn of a new age of Steeler football minus the leadership of a Hines Ward or James Farrior or Aaron Smith, yet Roethlisberger's presence bridges that void; a bridge supported by his ownership of two of the Lombardis sitting in the South Side facility.

Who better to lead the unproven young players than the man who can lay claim to being that bridge?

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