By Bob Labriola
There have been examples of it just about every week since the start of the 2004 season. Examples of how the Steelers have been able to incorporate young players into the starting lineup without a marked drop-off in performance.
The most obvious example is Ben Roethlisberger, and how the Steelers added a rookie quarterback to their offensive unit for the third game of the 2004 regular season and haven?t lost a regular season game since. The most recent example is Willie Parker.
Parker set a franchise record for rushing yards in an opening game with 161 last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, and that combined with Roethlisberger?s perfect passer rating of 158.3 to give the Steelers offense enough firepower to open the 2005 season with a convincing 34-7 win.
Certainly, Roethlisberger and Parker deserve credit for the way they have played when called upon, but the Steelers coaches also deserve credit for realizing what they have, and maybe more importantly what they don?t have, in each individual.
The Steelers never force-fed Roethlisberger large chunks of the offensive playbook last season, even when he demonstrated uncanny poise and on-field presence for a rookie. Even last Sunday, with Roethlisberger now a second-year starter, the Steelers kept things simple, which allowed him to concentrate on execution.
?Ben is going to get compared to last year, and he?s not going to live up to anybody?s expectations with where he set the bar,? said Coach Bill Cowher following the win over the Titans. ?He?s just got to be an integral part of this thing.?
By not asking one player to carry the entire load, the Steelers give themselves a chance to succeed even if an individual doesn?t play well on a particular day. That?s not necessarily the case with other teams, such as Indianapolis with Peyton Manning, Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb or Baltimore with Jamal Lewis.
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