View Full Version : Steelers Turn to a New Leader

05-14-2006, 08:49 AM
Steelers turn to new leader

By Joe Bendel
Sunday, May 14, 2006

In a far corner of the Steelers' locker room, where Jerome Bettis once held court, the silence was nearly deafening.
"Used to be, he'd have everybody laughing in here," said tailback Willie Parker, a Bettis protege. "Now, nothing."

Bettis' former locker is now occupied by third-round draft pick Willie Reid, a wide receiver from Florida State. One look in that direction, and reality hit Saturday at the opening of minicamp: The Bus is gone -- for good.

"It's quieter," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "You don't hear anybody yelling right now. You lose a great friend out of this locker room, to me in particular."

Yesterday marked the first time in 10 years that Bettis, who retired after the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory, was not part of this annual three-day ritual.

"Different," is how running back Verron Haynes described it.

Different, but not necessarily devastating. To hear some of his teammates tell it, Roethlisberger is more than ready to become the next Bettis for the Steelers, the next face of the franchise.

He was modest when asked if he felt any pressure in potentially assuming such a powerful role.

"No pressure; I just do it because you guys (the media) want to talk to me for some reason," Roethlisberger said, grinning. "It's one of those things that's part of being the quarterback for a team -- and now you won a Super Bowl. So there's probably a couple more of you guys around here."

Second-year tight end Heath Miller did not hesitate in assessing Roethlisberger's place in the franchise's pecking order.

"This is Ben's team," Miller said. "Ben's earned the right to be a leader. He's well-respected from the top to the bottom of this organization. I don't know if he's going to change anything. He's just going to keep doing what he's doing. He's pretty much earned what he gets."

Added Super Bowl MVP receiver Hines Ward: "He has come into his own and he has become the leader of this team, and guys are going to follow. That's what comes with playing quarterback."

Particularly when a quarterback plays at the level achieved by Roethlisberger. He ranked third in the AFC in passer rating last season at 98.6 and was dominant in the playoffs, completing 75 percent of his passes for 680 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception in victories over Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, all on the road.

At 24, the blossoming Roethlisberger holds a distinction few quarterbacks can claim -- he is a Super Bowl champion.

"You naturally look up to him," Miller said.

Roethlisberger is looking to open up the passing game. He believes he has more than enough weapons around him with Miller, a first-round pick in 2005, wideout Santonio Holmes, a first-round pick in April, along with Pro Bowler Ward, Cedrick Wilson and the rookie Reid, who flashed his speed and ball-catching skills yesterday afternoon on the South Side.

"Every day, I say something to coach (Bill) Cowher, jokingly, hoping maybe he'll take me serious," Roethlisberger said of accelerating the passing attack.

The Steelers threw the ball only 43 percent of the time last season, an increase from 39 percent in 2004. Cowher often points out that the passing numbers are skewed because the Steelers often run the ball in the second half to protect leads.

Still, Roethlisberger wouldn't mind flinging the ball downfield to his stable of pass catchers the way he did in the AFC title game, when he dropped back on 15 of the first 23 snaps.

"I just hope that every year they gain more confidence in me and that we can go out and make it a balanced offense, that maybe we can be more dangerous," Roethlisberger said. "Maybe we're more dangerous. Maybe we're not as good. Who knows? You'll never know. There's a formula that's been working here, and that's running the ball, and I'm sure we'll keep doing that, because we have some great backs that can run the ball."

Cowher confirmed as much, saying, "When we get a lead, we'll continue to take the air out of the ball. We will not alter our approach."

That said, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt suggested Roethlisberger's evolution will continue.

"He deserves a chance to do a few more things because of the way he played in the playoffs," Whisenhunt said. "He showed he could do some things. The natural progression of this offense is that we'll expand and do a few more things. We have a good corps of receivers, and that will allow us to do that."

05-14-2006, 10:35 AM
The Bus will certainly be missed but I'm glad the guys aren't dwelling on that and are ready to move on

05-14-2006, 11:06 AM
There are plenty of leaders and potential leaders in that room...

I know Bussy will be missed..but I LOVE where this team's head is at....

05-14-2006, 11:25 AM
Ben, and Ward should take part on a two leadership role on offense. And Porter is the heart of the defense

05-14-2006, 07:00 PM
The Bus will certainly be missed but I'm glad the guys aren't dwelling on that and are ready to move on

Same here. Looks good thus far. Like what i am seeing out of Ben also as a leader.