(Ben Roethlisberger cover photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Carson Wentz photo by Rick Gosselin)
Talk of Fame Network
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not only knows what it’s like to make the jump from a small-college program to the NFL; he knows what it’s like to make that jump into the starting lineup as a rookie, too.
Roethlisberger, who attended Miami (Ohio) University, was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2004 and was supposed to sit and watch behind starter Tommy Maddox – which he did … for one game. But when Maddox was hurt in the second contest, that plan was scuttled and Roethlisberger was forced into action.
Result: He won his first 14 starts (including the playoffs) and led the Steelers to the AFC championship game.
So he’s more than qualified to offer advice to Philadelphia’s first-round pick, Carson Wentz, who went to North Dakota State … who, like Roethlisberger 12 years before him, is making a significant leap in competition … and who shares the same agent as Roethlisberger.
“You know,” Roethlisberger said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “people do make a big deal about the small school, and his school is even smaller than Miami was, a MAC school. But I think what you look at is: What did he do at that school? Yeah, maybe the competition level wasn’t that great, but it’s not like he just went out and had a winning season. He won national championships for that school … and that’s pretty impressive.
“To me, when I look at colleges nowadays — and I don’t mean any disrespect to these college programs and the college coaches because I have the upmost respect for all those guys — but I think they’re almost hurting quarterbacks a lot of times because of the offenses they’re running. They’re running these systems that are a lot of screens … and they’re looking over at the sidelines … they’re not really huddling … it’s all shotgun. It’s not NFL football.
“If you look at what Carson did in college, a lot of it … he’s not afraid to get under center … he did it. He can drop back and pass. He can do the play-action stuff. He can do the boots and nakeds – things you just don’t see a lot of in typical college football for the most part. There are still teams that do it. But I think he’s as prepared as anybody because of the type of system he played in and the work that he put in to get himself NFL ready.”
Of course, so was Roethlisberger, who didn’t lose a rookie start until New England beat him and the Steelers in the 2004 conference championship. It all looked so easy for Roethlisberger, who never let Maddox return to the starting lineup, but it wasn’t. And he explained why.
“I was so blessed to have a great football tgeam around me,” he said. “Obviously, how good our defense was and, offensively, we had a great running game with Jerome (Bettis) and with Hines (Ward) and ‘Plex’ (Burress) and a lot of those guys out there helping me (by catching) the ball. So they made life a lot easier on me.
“To me, it’s the speed of the game. People talk about the rookie wall, and usually it comes Week, 7, 8, 9, 10 … somewhere in there. It’s hard because you go straight from playing college football, which is 12, 14 games or however many games they play now, right into training for the draft … right into a team to training camp … right to a team. So really there’s like two years of non-stop football, no breaks, your legs aren’t resting (and) your arm’s not resting.
“So to make that jump … and you’re jumping not only because you’re physically exhausted but you’re playing against superior athletes and superior men. I mean, you’re going from playing with … these college guys can say they’re men, but when you get to the NFL those are men. It’s a big jump.
“So that, to me, (that) is the biggest thing. While your body is still worn down to make a jump to a bigger, faster league.”