Steelers see Big potential in Ben

No. 1 pick has team 'very, very excited'

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The Steelers were hoping they would get a quarterback in the first round of the National Football League draft, and they did. But it was Ben Roethlisberger, not Philip Rivers.

Peter Cosgrove, Associated Press
Ben Roethlisberger: The name the Steelers announce after months of speculation.
Click photo for larger image.
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THE DRAFT
IN-DEPTH
Click here to background on all the teams and top prospects. Plus, bookmark the section for latest developments and pick-by-pick updates throughout the draft weekend.

The Steelers used the 11th overall pick to take Roethlisberger, who played at Miami (Ohio) University and is considered by some NFL personnel to have more potential than the two quarterbacks selected ahead of him -- Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick, and Rivers, who was selected with the fourth pick by the New York Giants.

That's why Steelers coaches and front-office personnel were walking around the team's South Side training facility yesterday with smiles wider than the Allegheny River. When Roethlisberger's selection was flashed on the giant video board at Heinz Field, spectators at the Steelers Fan Blitz erupted with a loud roar of approval.

"A great pick," said Steelers president Art Rooney II.

"We're very, very excited about the opportunity to get a young quarterback," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "We think this kid's potential is unlimited. He hasn't even scratched the surface."

The Steelers did not think they would get a chance at one of the three marquee quarterbacks in the draft, especially when Rivers was selected by the Giants then traded to the Chargers for the draft's top overall pick, Manning.

But, when the Cleveland Browns bypassed Roethlisberger with the sixth overall selection, the Steelers knew they would have a chance to get the 6-foot-4, 242-pound quarterback. When it came their turn, they took Roethlisberger over Arkansas tackle Shawn Andrews, the No. 2 rated tackle in the draft behind Robert Gallery of Iowa, who went to the Oakland Raiders with the No. 2 overall pick.

"When you look at him athletically, a lot of people said he might be better, ultimately, than the two who were picked in front of him," Coach Bill Cowher said. "This kid has a lot of upside. The thing he lacks is experience."

Roethlisberger's selection created an additional buzz on draft day because it was the first time the Steelers have selected a quarterback in the first round since Mark Malone was their No. 1 pick in 1980.

Roethlisberger was a three-year starter at Miami, which plays in the smaller Mid-America Conference, but he played only one year at quarterback in high school in Findlay, Ohio. Nonetheless, he was the third quarterback from the MAC selected in the first round in the past five years, following Chad Pennington in 2000 (New York Jets) and Byron Leftwich in 2003 (Jacksonville).

The Steelers were the only NFL team that Roethlisberger visited during his pre-draft interview process.

"That's the big thing against me -- the time I've played [quarterback] and the lack of competition," Roethlisberger said. "But I played three years and Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and [Minnesota Vikings receiver] Randy Moss came out of the MAC and played in the NFL. That's pretty good."

Roethlisberger is not expected to unseat Tommy Maddox as the starting quarterback in 2004. But his arrival means the team will likely not be willing to revamp Maddox's contract, which will pay him $750,000 in base salary this year -- lowest among starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

"It's too early to say anything right now," said Vann McElroy, Maddox's agent.

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press
Bobby Conte, seated, and Joey Pucciarella traveled from from Altoona to join scores of other Stelers fans who flocked to Heinz Field yesterday to follow the broadcast of the NFL draft on the scoreboard screen during an event dubbed Steelers Fan Blitz.
Click photo for larger image.

In the second round, the Steelers moved up six spots to take cornerback Ricardo Colclough of Tusculum, a Division II school in Greenville, Tenn., that has never produced an NFL player.

Colclough (pronounced Coke-lee) will likely need a year of seasoning before he is ready to start in the National Football League. But the Steelers thought so much of his physical ability that they gave the Indianapolis Colts a fourth-round pick to move from the 44th overall spot to No. 38.

"He was attractive enough to us to make that commitment," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Colclough, a defensive MVP in the Senior Bowl. "We feel good about the depth at cornerback. We felt if we could add one more agile, aggressive, quick athlete, we'd be in good shape, and we felt he was it."

The Steelers finally took an offensive tackle on the third round -- Max Starks of Florida, who would be the team's biggest lineman at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds. Starks will be given a chance to be the team's starting right tackle.

Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who decided to forgo his junior and senior seasons to enter the draft, was taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the third overall pick. New Cardinals coach Dennis Green was with the Minnesota Vikings when Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Vikings and was tutored by Cris Carter.

Fitzgerald is the first Pitt player selected in the first round since guard Ruben Brown in 1995. It's the highest a Pitt player has been selected since defensive tackle Sean Gilbert was a third overall pick in 1992.

"It's a lifelong dream right before your eyes," said Fitzgerald, who set an NCAA record for most consecutive games with a touchdown catch (18). "You can kind of imagine the moment when you're sleeping and lying in bed ... to be able to share that with all my family members, that meant so much."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.


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