5 seasons in, Steelers leaning on Big Ben Print
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Wednesday, 30 July 2008 12:37
NFL Headline News

 LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -Casey Hampton labored unsuccessfully through the mandatory eight 100-yard dashes every Pittsburgh Steelers player must run to begin training camp.
When the four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman realized he wouldn't make it, who ran up to lend not only a helping hand but offer words of consolation? Not another defensive player, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
It's a much-repeated scene only four days into the Steelers' camp: Roethlisberger isn't just running the offense, he's leading it. The entire team, too.
There's no hiding it: The Steelers are Big Ben's team. Not Jerome Bettis' team or Alan Faneca's team or Hines Ward's team, but one that now relies on No. 7.
``Absolutely,'' said new center Justin Hartwig, citing the most visible example of what the Steelers think about Roethlisberger. ``One million dollars is a lot of money.''
That's $102 million to be precise, though the 26-year-old Roethlisberger probably won't see all of it. A nice chunk of it, $36 million, is guaranteed, including the $25.5 million signing bonus.
Such a contract isn't uncommon for NFL star quarterbacks, but it's a huge commitment for a team that previously declined to devote nearly as much cash to a single player. But Roethlisberger already is the second-most accomplished quarterback in the 76-year-old franchise's history to Terry Bradshaw, even though he is beginning only his fifth season on the job.
Coincidentally, it wasn't until his fifth season in 1974 that Bradshaw, one of the greatest big-game quarterbacks in NFL history, fully secured a starting job and led the Steelers to the first of their four Super Bowl victories in six seasons. At the same stage of his career, Roethlisberger has won a Super Bowl and is averaging 11 victories per season.
``The guy keeps getting better,'' Ward said. ``And you know he's going to keep getting better.''
Other than winning multiple Super Bowls, there isn't much Roethlisberger hasn't done since the Steelers drafted him No. 11 overall in 2004. He went 13-0 in 2004, by far the best record for an NFL rookie quarterback, won a Super Bowl the next season, then set Steelers' single-season records with 32 touchdown passes and a 104.1 passer rating last season despite getting sacked 47 times.
After years of searching for a franchise quarterback, the Steelers didn't want to lose this guy. That's why it's grown apparent that whatever Ben wants, Ben gets.
The Steelers tore up Roethlisberger's rookie contract to give him the new deal in March. A month later, they gladly fulfilled his request for a tall receiver with downfield skills by drafting Limas Sweed of Texas in the second round.
``I wanted to stay here,'' Roethlisberger said. ``The day I came here, I wanted to be one of those guys who played their entire career for one team, like (John) Elway and (Dan) Marino. I love Pittsburgh and I wanted to stay here.''
Understandably, too.
If a quarterback in New York or Philadelphia, for example, recklessly went out and crashed his motorcycle without wearing a helmet, nearly killing himself and effectively dooming his team's season months after winning a Super Bowl, it might have generated such fan anger that it could have ended his career in that city.
Yet after Roethlisberger's June 2006 accident, the fans shrugged their shoulders and said, ``Well, that's stubborn Ben for you,'' endured an underachieving season, then went back to cheering him as Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 10-6 record and a division title last year.
Even with the new offensive toys the Steelers are giving him in Sweed and running back Rashard Mendenhall, their first-round pick, Roethlisberger will earn his money this season.
The offensive line, stripped of one of the best players in franchise history when Faneca signed with the Jets as a free agent, is a work in progress that may not come together until well into the season. Until then, Roethlisberger must rely on his versatility, scrambling ability and a no-huddle offense to avoid being sacked once per series.
``I ask Ben all the time what he thinks and he has all the confidence in the world in (the linemen),'' said defensive end Brett Keisel, one of Roethlisberger's best friends. ``I don't think they're doing as much shuffling as they did last year and once they get that continuity down, they'll be fine.''
The still-developing no-huddle offense, which Roethlisberger has run effectively but sporadically, allows him to direct the show on his own without listening to his helmet headset for plays.
``I know he's itching to get out there and run that no-huddle and not have guys in his ears all the time,'' Ward said.
To that, Roethlisberger said, ``In high school and college, when things are going faster and I'm calling stuff, it always seems to work out better for me.''
Roethlisberger, like everyone associated with the Steelers, is eager to see how much better an already good quarterback can be. He is fifth all-time in NFL career passer rating, is 12-5 in games decided by six points or less, owns a 39-16 career record and has led 13 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives, yet still hasn't played his 60th regular-season game.
``I want to continue to get better and grow,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I think we've got an explosive offense just waiting to get let out.''

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