Roethlisberger makes training-camp debut
The rookie quarterback showed confidence and arm strength.
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -- No matter how many passes he completed in college, no matter how many millions he now has in the bank, Ben Roethlisberger was just like any other football player on his first official day in a new uniform.
Nervous. Really, really nervous.
"Without question," Roethlisberger said Wednesday after his first training camp practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "It felt like the first day of mini-camp all over again. Tommy [Maddox] and I were laughing about it. You need to get out there and get the first play out [of the way]."
That first play was nothing remarkable for the most-watched Steelers rookie quarterback since, well, Terry Bradshaw in 1970. Lining up under center from the 20-yard line in a 7-on-7 passing drill, Roethlisberger overthrew wide receiver Plaxico Burress near the goal line.
On the next play, Roethlisberger threaded a pass through heavy coverage to Burress at the 1. So much for nervousness or hesitancy.
"I had a chance to throw to Plax for the first time and I overthrew him because I was so excited, so I came back and got him the next time," Roethlisberger said. "The butterflies were gone and it was good to get back out there."
Even if he really hasn't been gone all that long. Roethlisberger spent more than a month with the team during mini-camp and the voluntary coaching sessions this spring, and he picked up much of the offense then. That's why the former Miami (Ohio) star doesn't seem worried about missing the first four practices of camp before signing a contract that guarantees him $9 million in bonuses by March.
Quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple already is holding extra meetings with the rookie to get him up to speed.
"I don't think I'm very far behind at all; everything has already been installed," Roethlisberger said. "I'm more behind being out here on the field, throwing with the guys. ... But I don't feel like I lost too much time. It's just getting back out there and getting into the groove of things."
The Steelers don't plan to rush Roethlisberger during his rookie year, giving him plenty of time to settle in and get comfortable as Maddox plays. Roethlisberger will get off the bench only if Maddox is injured or badly under-performs and, even if that happens, veteran quarterback Charlie Batch might play ahead of him.
Confidence, arm strength
But if Roethlisberger keeps displaying the in-huddle presence, the confidence and arm strength he showed on his first day of training camp, the Steelers realize it will be difficult to keep him on the bench for very long after this season.
"I thought he looked pretty good," Burress said. "He'll probably need a few days [to settle in], and he's probably trying to make perfect throws right now."
Roethlisberger's arrival created no visible tension or competition in camp -- a contrast, perhaps, to the rookie Eli Manning vs. veteran Kurt Warner duel on the New York Giants. Maddox realizes that the Steelers didn't bring in Roethlisberger to keep him benched long-term, but he has been supportive of the rookie.
"I think everybody's been looking forward to this season," Maddox said. "We have a lot of talent on this team and people who want to win. I think we're going to surprise people."
For now, Roethlisberger would prefer no surprises.
"Now it's strictly football and there's nothing else to worry about," he said. "I can just concentrate on what I have to do."