While he slipped through a grace period early in his career in large part thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ veteran defense, one of the knocks on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has long been his ability to command a locker room and be a leader.
Even as recently as last season, former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders—whom Roethlisberger lobbied for the team to retain in 2013 when the New England Patriots made him a one-year, $2.5 million offer as a restricted free agent—compared his leadership qualities negatively relative to Peyton Manning.
Granted, there may be no tougher quarterback to be compared against when it comes to leadership, but the fact of the matter is that Sanders has not been around to see some of Roethlisberger’s greatest work on the field as a leader and instructor, which head coach Mike Tomlin has described as a part of the natural maturation process.
I would argue, however, that that process has been at least in part artificial, with respect to the nature of the ebb and flow of a roster from year to year. The fact of the matter is that Roethlisberger has in the last two years been by far one of the most veteran players on the entire team, not even just on his side of the ball, which has not been true throughout his career.
In an unusual circumstance, Roethlisberger spent the early part of his career as a franchise quarterback paired with a team that boasted a veteran defense whose cabal-style leadership commanded the locker room, meaning that was a role that the young gun slinger was not required, nor asked, to fill.
Some issues arose from this over time, as we’ve seen some minor conflicts from teammates such as James Harrison and Hines Ward, but we have been well past that stage, and are now seeing Roethlisberger at his peak as far as football acumen and leadership ability.
Many beat writers commented last season on Roethlisberger becoming more vocal and demonstrative, instructing his young players, which is indeed a natural part of the process of breaking in players younger than yourself that you must depend on.
As quarterback Bruce Gradkowski told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “the most important thing about the quarterback position is having guys do things the way you want them done. I see him doing that more and more”.
Veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey also told Kaboly that Roethlisberger “even comes into the wide receiver room and tells us what he wants and he does a good job of telling us what he needs”, which I do sense is a more recent development.
Roethlisberger has also been bringing out his receivers for private workouts at his Georgia home in recent years, and, as Kaboly writes, “routinely stays after practice with his receivers to get in extra throws”.
Roethlisberger senses, knows that the Steelers are building something with remarkable potential on the offensive side of the ball. He knows that he is the key cog in that machine, and so he has taken ownership and responsibility over its success or failure. He seems more invested than ever, more accountable than ever. It’s no wonder so many are predicting a franchise-best offensive attack this season under the veteran’s watch.