The best way to prepare for football and the physical contact that is endemic to it is to actually play ball and to take those hits. While the Pittsburgh Steelers are running 11-on-11 drills and tackling, for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he still feels like a spectator as far as the physical aspect is concerned.
And that’s a problem for him coming back from a severe elbow injury and not having played since September. While speaking to reporters earlier today, he admitted to having nerves out there on the field in ways he’s never felt before, after the first major injury of his career.
“When we’ve done some two-minute drills against the defense, I’ve actually felt the jelly kind of legs. I felt nervous on the practice field, which I’ve never felt before”, he said. “Maybe not for a long time. So I know if I’m nervous out there on the practice field right now that the game’s going to be a different feeling”.
How do you get over that when you know that the first contact you’re going to take isn’t going to come until it’s in a game that actually matters, especially this year without even the opportunity to take a hit in the preseason? Well, he’s tried to convince people to give him a shot or two.
“That I think is going to be the last hurdle and getting hit”, he said. “I’ve tried to talk T.J. and all those guys into just giving me a little bumps every once in a while, but no one will do it. But getting hit and calming the nerves are going to be big ones for me”.
Quarterbacks getting the jitters in the pocket after coming back from a major injury is certainly not uncommon. Even Tom Brady admitted to going through this when he came back in 2009 after missing almost all of the previous season due to a torn ACL he suffered in the opener.
The combination of knowing that you were injured and have that vulnerability and the time missed creates a mental hurdle to get over, one that is necessary to get over in order to play. A quarterback who is overly conscious of getting hit and the need to protect himself will struggle to play at a high level.
And of course teams can’t have their own defenders hitting their franchise quarterback in practice, so the only way to actually go through it is to experience the real thing. All you can do is hope that your first couple of hits are light ones.