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Ben Roethlisberger shoulders responsibility of teaching what it means to play for the Steelers

Entering Year 18, Ben Roethlisberger is doing more than just helping teammates with he X’s and O’s.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp handout photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the early days of their 2021 training camp, and, as always, eyes are on the quarterback for the black and gold. Ben Roethlisberger has always been a focus of media and fans since he was drafted 11th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft, but even as he enters year 18 of his career, the focus remains the same.

After the Steelers started out 11-0 in 2020, they stumbled in the month of December, limping into the playoffs and having another one-and-done postseason visit. It has made many declare how Roethlisberger needs to prove himself all over again. But Roethlisberger doesn’t agree with that sentiment.

“It’s not about proving anything,” Roethlisberger told Albert Breer of Monday Morning Quarterback. “It’s about a love of the game, and a love of this team and this city, and feeling like I still got it. I can’t really call it a job. I understand that it is, but I can’t call it a job because it’s what I love to do. It’s fun. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

When you consider Roethlisberger’s credentials, what else does he have to prove? What else is there to check off his to-do list? He has already outlasted all quarterbacks drafted with him in the ‘04 class, including Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, but what Roethlisberger wants, or needs, to do doesn’t have anything to do with on field performance.

It’s about his teammates.

“I think my goal in all this, in all the years and all the experiences I have, is to do the best I can to pass down Steeler tradition and Steeler history, what it means to wear the black-and-gold,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s what I try and do everyday, just let these guys know what it takes and what it means, and what’s expected of you when you put this jersey on every day.

“It’s something that I don’t know you can ever really put into words for the person that’s not here. But it means a lot. These fans bleed black-and-gold, so we need to bleed black-and-gold. And I do. I think a lot of guys on this field do. Young guys are still learning it. But I think as soon as they step on the field in Week 2 at Heinz Field, and the fans are going nuts, they’re gonna understand what it is to play for this team.”

If you can imagine what Roethlisberger felt as he walked into the team’s UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for mandatory minicamp this year, it was probably a lonely feeling.

Gone is good friend Vance McDonald to retirement.

Gone is battery mate and friend Maurkice Pouncey to retirement.

Offensive linemen David DeCastro (released), Alejandro Villanueva (free agent departure) and Matt Feiler (free agent departure) are also gone.

Roethlisberger had to stop and look around the room and wonder where he was. Who were these young players? Nonetheless, head coach Mike Tomlin thinks Roethlisberger realizes how he needs to count on these young players. After all, if he wants to win a third Super Bowl before calling it a career, those young players will have to step up in a big way.

“I think he realizes there are a bunch of young people that we’re counting on,” Tomlin told Breer. “And so he’s just putting his hand in the pile in terms of helping them grow and understand. Assignments are one thing, this process of handling assignments. But the informal communication, the gaining of understanding, the communication from player to player, that provides the detail that really gives us the winning edge. He’s been on the job 18 years, he understands that.

“He realizes he’s going to need some of those guys to make plays, and so he’s trying to accelerate the maturation process.”

All of this talk is great, and is hardly new for the Steelers fans who cling to information every preseason. While fans will gawk over Roethlisberger’s intentions, his on field performance is ultimately what he will be judged by. It is the only criteria which truly matters. In September no one will talk about how Roethlisberger was helping young players understand what it means to be a part of the organization if the team starts out 1-3.

So, how does Roethlisberger feel heading into 2021? As it turns out, hindsight can be 20-20.

“I feel great,” he says. “You go two years ago, only playing a couple games, having elbow surgery, last year’s your first year back from a major surgery. I think if you ask anybody that’s had a major surgery, their first year back, no matter how far removed from it, it’s always a re-figure out, and getting to a comfort level with that part of your body. For me to feel more back to normal, I’m excited for that.

“It’s always interesting, because when asked last year how I felt, I would tell you I felt great. But then, one year removed, I look back on it, and I’m like, Man, maybe I wasn’t as good as I feel now.”

Roethlisberger admitted to feeling run down at the end of last season, and with a more regular offseason under his belt he should be better suited for a 17-game regular season. On-field performance aside, the Steelers quarterback recognizes where he is in his career, and is hoping to leave the Steelers organization, one day, the same way he found it. With players who understand how special the organization is, and the pride which accompanies it.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.