Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spent nearly half of his life walking in and out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ facilities and serving as the face of the franchise. With his retirement last month, however, there is no going back—not for him, and not for the team, either, with all of the implications that come along with such a monumental departure.
“Obviously, there’s a big void there, a guy who played for 18 years, brought Super Bowls to the city, was such a big part of the tradition and the legacy there in Pittsburgh”, one of the Steelers’ young(ish) defensive leaders, T.J. Watt, told reporters during Pro Bowl practices on Thursday about the changing of the guard.
As with everybody else on that roster, considering he was there for 18 years, Roethlisberger is the only player they have ever known as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. Nobody knows right now who is going to be under center come September, with no clearcut successor. But they’ll find the leaders to surround him with.
“There’s gonna be a void for sure, but it’s opportunities for younger guys to step up in that role and help out whoever is the quarterback for us next year”, Watt said, and he has a couple of prime candidates along with him in running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who made their first Pro Bowl this year as alternates. “We’re gonna find a guy on the offensive side of the ball that wants that role as well. I feel very confident with the guys we have right now”, added Cameron Heyward.
For years, Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey were the team’s offensive captains. This past year, it was just Roethlisberger. However, I could easily see Harris being a team captain already in year two, and he has previously spoken about being ready for it.
Fellow 2020 draft pick, tight end Pat Freiermuth, is another player whom I could see taking on a leadership role of some kind, if only by example at first, though it would be nice if they could bring in somebody along the offensive line who already has an established credibility this offseason, which is something they’re lacking.
Naturally, the quarterback position is the wild card. Mason Rudolph does have a certain amount of respect in the locker room. Any rookie coming in would be starting from scratch. They could potentially bring in a free agent, or even acquire somebody via trade, who has already established himself in the league.