It’s kind of funny to watch how the conversation shifts over time as the media appears to be growing more and more comfortable with the likelihood that Ben Roethlisberger will be at least something approximating his usual self this season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He did, after all, merely have surgery on his elbow, and he is an athlete who is 38 years old. In the real world, that usually has an excellent prognosis. No, elbow surgery is nothing to sneeze at, and there are potential complications, but we’ve seen more than enough athletes come back from serious injuries at similar ages and be fine, including in other sports, like Bartolo Colon. This isn’t Terry Bradshaw having covert surgery in the mid-80s under the alias Thomas Brady (yes, that really happened).
Anyway, as I was saying, as the media begins to turn in Roethlisberger’s favor, the conversation is shifting as to what the teams’ biggest variable is. If Roethlisberger’s health or performance is in question, then it has to be him. Yet over on ESPN, Dan Orlovsky argues that it’s actually about JuJu Smith-Schuster. I’ve transcribed his comments from Get Up below:
Big Ben’s gonna play really well. Even Big Ben himself has mentioned this is the best his arm has felt in years. And I know this is a conversation about Big Ben, but it’s not about him for me. This is about JuJu Smith-Schuster, because the reality is this: for Big Ben to perform the way he wants, he’s always had a big-time receiver, and JuJu really needs to step up to being that true number one, because, you go to his rookie year when he had Antonio Brown, he has 58 catches for like 900 yards. Really good rookie year. And then his second year, again, still with Antonio Brown there, he has 111 catches for 1400 yards. And then go back to last season, and I know Big Ben’s not there, but Antonio Brown is not there either and he drops down to 450 yards. So for Big Ben to be in one of the top quarterback conversations for this coming season, this is so much more about JuJu. JuJu needs to become that bona fide number one receiver that Ben has always had, the Hines Wards, the ABs, Plaxico, someone like that that the Pittsburgh Steelers are notorious for. So for me, this is way more about JuJu Smith-Schuster becoming that bona fide number one, without Antonio Brown opposite him, than really, is Big Ben gonna be able to perform this season.
Needless to say, Orlovsky is being overly hard on Smith-Schuster. The loss of Roethlisberger was a far bigger factor than the loss of Brown on his play, and he also missed a full quarter of the season with a knee injury, which affected him for the final two games. He also suffered a toe injury early in the year that lingered. Not to say nothing about his underwhelming season was his fault, but I’m really not worried about his ability to be a number one receiver, especially with the emergence of the others behind him.