Before Tuesday, the last time we heard from Ben Roethlisberger regarding football was a via a statement he issued regarding his season-ending surgery after suffering an elbow injury in the Steelers Week 2 match-up against the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field last season.
It was the words in that statement that left the team's offense struggling to find consistency, thrown into a tailspin without an experienced quarterback on the roster.
This offseason, we saw peeks of hope. First, there was a video of Roethlisberger throwing in an empty gym. Then, video of him throwing to his teammates surfaced and the reviews started to come in, with teammates singing the praises of how the all-everything quarterback looked.
And now, almost 11 months after Steelers Nation collectively had their heart in their throats, Ben is back.
Roethlisberger has resumed throwing at Heinz Field with the team's training camp underway and is happy to be back, even if he was a little nervous out of the gate.
"I am very nervous by the way. I am not sure why," admitted Roethlisberger about talking to the media during the start of a zoom call. "I haven't spoken to you guys in so long. Forgive me if I take a minute to think about some of my answers."
Roethlisberger said he threw a lot on Monday, and that he felt good doing it, even almost 24 hours later.
"Waking up today to see how it was going to feel, and it feels great. That is kind of what I anticipated. We have been working more than usual in the offseason in terms of throwing. I've put together a regimen of two to three days a week throwing for the last two months, if not longer. I think the plan is still to pitch-count if you will through training camp. I worked really hard (Monday) in terms of a lot of throws. I will try half that amount today and then tomorrow back off again, just to see how it's going to feel. This is a really different training camp. You are not really doing one-on-ones; you are not doing seven-on-seven right now. We are building up, working on timing with receivers, tight ends, running backs. I have had no setbacks. It feels really, really good. I am really excited about that."
Roethlisberger is returning from surgery on his throwing elbow, something that could hinder any quarterback. But, heading into his 17th season with the black and gold, he isn't letting it hinder him at all and never doubted that he would return in 2020.
"I knew it hurt. I knew I had some options. I just didn't feel like I was done playing football," said Roethlisberger. "I really felt like I wanted to come back. I was excited about this team. I just don't' feel like I am done playing football. If it was a thought, it wasn't a long one.
"I think any athlete, any competitor, will tell you they want to go out on their own terms. It doesn't happen all the time, we don't always get lucky. Whether that's trades, cuts, injuries, whatever that is. I think that if I felt that I was closer to the end, it might have been more of a decision for me to think longer about coming back or not. But I didn't feel that I was close to that yet. I'm not saying I've got 10 years left in me, but I definitely feel like I've got some really good years left in me.
"That was definitely a motivating factor, coming back and showing that I still have it in the tank. I still have a lot to give this team. I still have a lot to give the fans.
"And I just want to win Lombardis. And I say that with a plural on the end."
Roethlisberger relived what happened with the elbow injury against the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, and that despite having pain in the elbow previously, this time it was different. He also detailed what the surgery was.
"I have had a little bit of an injury in that elbow for quite a few years," said Roethlisberger. "It's just something I have dealt with, never serious enough to do anything with. The drive in Seattle that pain wasn't going away. I threw one deep one to JuJu (Smith-Schuster) down the right side and I just really felt a different pain and discomfort than I ever felt, and it was shooting down my arm. I knew something was different at that moment.
"Well, I'm not a doctor and I did not stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night, so I will do my best. There's no real name for it. It's not Tommy John or anything like that. There are flexor tendons attached to your elbow, five of them, and I tore three of them off the bone. They just go in and sew through the tendon and reattach it to an anchor in your elbow. As far as I am aware, I think it's happened to just kind of everyday people on the street, if you will. From what I've been told, it's never happened to a quarterback to this magnitude. I believe –I can't think of it right now. I believe there was at least another quarterback who had one, maybe two, torn off, but from what I understand not three. Like I said, that's just what I've been told, if I remember correctly."
Roethlisberger said he is feeling in great physical condition now and the 38-year old began training during the 2019 season and that continued into the offseason.
"I think knowing I am a little older it's important to make sure you are in shape," said Roethlisberger. "I am lighter than I have been in 13, 14 years and I feel really good. I feel strong. I feel healthy. I feel young if you can feel young at this age. I am just really excited about this season and the group of guys we have here."
More from Ben:
On what he learned from watching from the sidelines last year: Well, I can learn that I don't want to watch anymore. I want to be out there. I do think that I can be better than what I have in the past, not dealing with a nagging elbow is definitely something. I'm not saying that it was every day that it bothered me, but you know, to feel healthy, to feel more in shape things like that. Obviously, you can't turn back Father Time and make myself feel like I'm 21 and run all over the field, but I think you can go on the field even at an older age and still feel really good. I feel that way right now. I feel mentally sharp, even though Zoom meetings as crazy as that sounds. I think I was also more involved with Coach Randy [Fichtner] and stuff last year when you talk about from the sidelines, having a headset on, hearing the communication from the coaches, hearing the communication from players. When you're playing, when you're on the field and come off to the sideline, you only have so much time really to communicate with receivers, running backs, linemen, things like that, and then look at the pictures and all the things that go in between series. Last year, I was actually able to watch more. I was able to watch more of the big picture, if you will. Then, I was able to speak with more guys on the sidelines and talk with them and communicate kind of what I saw, what did they see. I think it was beneficial. It kind of goes back to a crazy way to when my junior year of high school I played wide receiver. The coach was always like it benefitted you as a senior playing quarterback from playing wide receiver your junior year. I never understood it at the time, but I think it does to a certain extent because you can see the other side of it. I was able to kind of see the bigger picture of being a quarterback just from being on the sideline last year.
On building chemistry with Eric Ebron and what Vance McDonald means to the offense: I think that having both of those guys as playmakers on the field at the same time can create some matchup problems for a defense. You know we did it a few years back when we had Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth on the field. You kind of can dictate what the defense does or gives you in terms of personnel. If they want to match up, then you can throw the ball. If they want to put smaller personnel to stop the pass and you can run, then you should be able to run the ball. Having two kind of dynamic weapons like that can still give you a lot in the run game. I think people sometimes get this perception that OK you have these two kinds of skilled receivers; you're going to use them just to pass. But, I've spent some time with – obviously, I know Vance [McDonald] very well and spending time with Eric [Ebron] these past few months, knowing both of them, they don't want to be lumped into the bubble of just being receiving tight ends. They want to do whatever it takes to block, to put their noses in the pile, to run the ball, things like that, and I think that's encouraging. You know they have a skillset, and that's passing, especially Ebron catching passes, but he wants to help the team however he can. I think we can utilize those guys on multiple fronts in terms of helping this offense. It's how Eric and I have gotten the kind of relationship just communicating. He stayed at my house earlier in the offseason when we were throwing, so we got to spend some time just sitting and talking and learning about each other. He's excited to be here. I'm excited to have him here, and the other guys are excited to have him here too.
On being an underdog: I know a lot of guys like being on top and being hunted. Sometimes it's fun to be the underdog and to be overlooked. You're right, we do have a great defense, and I'm excited about that group. That was one of the big reasons I was excited to come back was to play with a group like that. They let you play more free as a quarterback. I'm excited about that part of it and, obviously, our linemen and all of our skill guys we have. It's OK. We can be overlooked. It's the offseason, and no one knows what the season is going to hold or entail. We are going to go out there and give it everything we have to try and win a football game.
On if he is concerned about the lack of preseason games: I bet you'd never think you'd hear a 17-year vet say that he mises preseason a little bit. I actually kind of was excited for it a little bit to get out there. I don't know if Coach [Tomlin] would have let me play, but I would have asked him because I wanted to get in there and kind of get the feel of it again. It's definitely going to be different, knowing that the first time you're in there it's on the line and guys are counting on you. It's a lot more added pressure. I'm going to have pressure on myself obviously, but I don't want to let the guys down. I'll have to do everything I can to make sure I can play my best or at least just not hurting the team when the time comes, not having that extra preseason and stuff.
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field