On the Steelers: First impressions of Ben Roethlisberger
September 7, 2014 12:00 AM
Sept. 26, 2004 -- Ben Roethlisberger eludes the Miami rush in his first NFL start
Brett Keisel, left, and Ben Roethlisberger celebrate a touchdown against Seattle in 2007
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Brett Keisel has followed Ben Roethlisberger's career as closely as anyone. The defensive end already had two years on the roster when the Steelers drafted their quarterback in 2004.
Keisel, who would become friends with Roethlisberger, recalled two first "wow" moments for him that opened his eyes to just what the Steelers had in their young quarterback.
The first came during a practice.
"I was just a couple years older than him, and I made a nice rush, and he just took off away from me," Keisel said. "I said, 'This big boy can run.' "
The other came in the fifth game of his rookie season -- his third start -- against Cleveland at home. The score was tied, 7-7, in the first quarter. The Steelers had second down on the Browns 6.
"The pocket got smashed," Keisel said, giving the play-by-play 10 years later. "And he did a couple whoop-de-doos and spins and tiptoes and then just gave everything he had to get into the end zone, and then he had to dive between two guys coming to smash him.
"When that happened, all of us were like, 'Wow!' "
There would be many more such moments over the next decade, and they hope more to come.
Said Keisel: "Running with this thing the way he did as a rookie and going 15-1, and the next year we go win the Super Bowl and then we go back and then we go back. I mean, it's all because we have that franchise quarterback."
Sticking with our theme of the day, looking over the first decade of the Steelers franchise quarterback as he begins his 11th season, the question arises: Is this what they expected when they drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2004?
"I think it's been a pretty solid 10 years," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "I mean, three Super Bowl appearances, two wins. ... I think most quarterbacks coming into the league would take that if you said that's going to be part of your first 10 years.
"Ben started and developed really quickly compared to what the old school used to be that it took a few years. Ben wound up starting his rookie year and really was pretty quick to being an effective quarterback."
The plan was not to start him as a rookie. General manager Kevin Colbert said they drafted him with the idea "we think he is going to be a franchise quarterback."
"But nobody felt he was going to have to play right away," Colbert said. "Of course, it all changes when Tommy Maddox gets hurt in the second game. So really, when he went in, he wasn't ready. He got a lot done just on pure talent and instincts more than NFL knowledge."
Maddox injured his right arm in Baltimore and Roethlisberger replaced him in that game, which would be their only loss that season. He started the third game and they went 13-0 with him as their starting quarterback. Bill Cowher rested him in the finale before the playoffs. No other quarterback in the history of the game could approach 13-0 as a rookie.
Pity the Cleveland Browns, today's opponent. They passed on drafting Roethlisberger in 2004. Instead, they drafted a tight end with the sixth overall pick -- Kellen Winslow II. He turned into a decent tight end who played four seasons in Cleveland (a fifth on injured reserve) and five more years with three other teams, finishing with the Jets last year (he remains an unsigned free agent today).
But who could blame the Browns for skipping over the kid from just up the road in Findlay, Ohio? They had Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb and Luke McCown at quarterback in 2004.
Roethlisberger is 17-1 against the Browns.
In the decade Roethlisberger has been the Steelers starter, the Browns have started eight different quarterbacks for at least seven games in any one season. Brian Hoyer, today's starting quarterback for Cleveland, could make it nine. Johnny Manziel soon could be No. 10.
The Browns have had one winning record in those 10 seasons.
Here’s what I have to say: One man’s predictions
How will the Steelers do? That question starts around May and crescendos right up until today, when we finally answer with specifics.
So here, for the fifth consecutive season, we deliver our game-by-game predictions for the 2014 season on the morning of the opener. Spoiler alert: If you do not want to know the outcome, stop here. Reader beware: We picked them to finish 11-5 in 2012 and 10-6 in 2013. For amusement only.
Cleveland: If they lose this one, cancel the rest of the season. Win. 1-0.
At Baltimore: With Mike Tomlin staying off the field. Loss. 1-1
At Carolina: Steelers have beaten the Panthers fourtimes in a row. Loss. 1-2.
Note: Right around this time, the Steelers will be reminded of their poor starts the past three seasons, especially last year when they lost their first four. But then comes ...
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers supposedly are better, but not good enough. Win. 2-2.
At Jacksonville: Steelers are 10-12 against the Jaguars. Win. 3-2.
At Cleveland: Doesn't matter where. Win. 4-2.
Houston: Bill O'Brien has no Tom Brady. Win. 5-2.
Indianapolis: Not enough defense. Loss. 5-3.
Baltimore: Another split with their rivals. Win. 6-3.
At New York Jets: They usually find a way against the Jets. Win. 7-3.
At Tennessee: Mike Mularkey's revenge? No. Win. 8-3.
New Orleans: Again, not enough defense. Loss. 8-4.
At Cincinnati: The defending division champs hang in. Loss. 8-5.
At Atlanta: Not an easy spot to play for the Steelers. Loss. 8-6.
Kansas City: Todd Haley's revenge. Win. 9-6.
Cincinnati: Returning the favor at home. Win. 10-6.
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