You have probably noticed that the physicality of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practices has been made a story over the course of the past couple days. Honestly, it’s not entirely clear just how much of a ‘story’ it really is, at least in terms of evaluating the risk of it becoming an issue, which is probably marginal at best.
But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger certainly did not bring it up for no reason, and if there was any doubt on that point, he would not have reiterated his opinion the following day, which prompted a tactful response from head coach Mike Tomlin, during which he basically said that a good idea is a good idea regardless of how it’s brought up.
But the fact that it was brought up in public is somewhat curious, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler thinks that he has an inkling of why he brought it up based on talking to players around the locker room, and, unsurprisingly, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that he has a louder voice than others.
Fowler wrote yesterday that “from asking around in the locker room”, Roethlisberger likely “made those comments because he’s fiercely protective of his offensive line, which takes a heavy pounding during camp”.
Of course, we all know just how infamously loyal Roethlisberger is to his offensive line, no matter how poorly they might play. He took a beating game in and game out over the course of the 2008 season, in spite of the fact that he played every game that season, even when he was unable to practice. But when it came time to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, he addressed his linemen, asking them, “who’s laughing now?”.
Taken from this perspective, the timing of his comments is, of course, glaringly obvious. The Steelers have suffered injuries to five significant offensive linemen this season, starting with rookie tackle Jerald Hawkins, who wound up on injured reserve.
Then reserve interior lineman and 2015 16-game starter Cody Wallace suffered a hyperextended knee that required a cleanup operation midseason, and he has yet to play this year. Ramon Foster suffered a sternum injury that knocked him out a start. Marcus Gilbert had already been playing through a shoulder injury when he suffered a foot injury that will cause him to miss his second straight start.
Ryan Harris was knocked out and placed on injured reserve on top of that. The offensive line is starting to run thin, and Chris Hubbard is in the starting lineup until Gilbert gets back. Roethlisberger knows his voice carries more weight than Gilbert’s would, as just a random example, so perhaps he used his platform to speak on their behalf, whether prompted or unprompted.
Ultimately, I can’t imagine this will actually be an issue, and perhaps Tomlin will even re-evaluate over the course of the season and make changes in the future. But the idea that Roethlisberger would step up to the plate to protect his linemen is certainly well within his character.