Colbert: Could be a better Ben

INDIANAPOLIS – Whenever General Manager Kevin Colbert stands behind a microphone these days, it's always the first question, and in fairness, when it comes to the Steelers situation this offseason and their prognosis for the 2020 NFL season, it's the most important question.

Any update on Ben (Roethlisberger)?

That's the way it started this morning at the Indiana Convention Center when Colbert took the podium at his appointed time for a 20-minute media session during the NFL Scouting Combine, and on this occasion there actually was something to talk about based on the video released on social media recently showing Roethlisberger throwing a football earlier than many people expected.

Roethlisberger had a Feb. 21 appointment in California with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had performed the surgery, and the speculation was that he could be cleared to begin throwing a Nerf football. But the video showed Roethlisberger throwing what looked to be a regulation football, which has been interpreted as a good sign.

"We saw the video," said Colbert. "Ben was with (Steelers head athletic trainer) John Norwig when they visited the doctors out in California. That video was posted (of him throwing), which was very encouraging, but what we re-emphasized is we love the progress but we don't play until September. We'll continue to follow the doctor's orders, and we'll continue to encourage Ben. But what's exciting about it is we might have a better Ben Roethlisberger coming out of this surgery. He sat for a year, he didn't have wear and tear on his body for a year. Sure, he had a significant surgery, but we're optimistic he might be better."

Colbert then was asked to address whether the progress presented in the video might alter the timeline for Roethlisberger's return to football activity.

"The timeline is always going to be that we want to have Ben ready for regular season game No. 1, whenever that is," said Colbert. "We'll follow the doctor's orders to a 'T.' John Norwig will follow the rehab at the doctor's orders as well. With a guy like Ben, you have to be careful to hold him back a little bit if he progresses maybe a little too aggressively because we have to make sure he is there for September whenever our first game is.

"Everyone understands that game days are most important, but participating in minicamps, OTAs, whatever he can," continued Colbert, "will be part of him having a great season, but again, we're really thinking we're not worried about the surgery because it might be a better result. I'm excited and encouraged about where he can go."

Colbert expanded a bit on some of the reasons why he's "excited and encouraged" about where Roethlisberger can go. The fact there was no wear and tear on his body that comes from an NFL season, this offseason can be spent attacking the rehab on his elbow while not having to endure, for example, knee pain, shoulder stiffness, and anything else that could result from 16 games of professional football. The advances in orthopedic surgery have been life-changing, and Dr. ElAttrache is one of the best in his field. While it may seem counter-intuitive to believe an NFL quarterback could come out of surgery on his throwing elbow and be better, consider running back Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL, MCL, and his meniscus on Dec. 24, 2011, and he did not miss a single game in 2012 when he led the NFL in rushing and went over 2,000 yards for the season. It's not impossible.

"First of all, there's wear and tear, and he didn't play football last season," said Colbert about the plus-side, before adding, "then again, there's a certain amount of rust that builds up, and we look at it that way as well. But physically, he didn't play a season of NFL football, so physically he should be better. The arm, who knows? His arm could be stronger coming out of this surgery. You never know the extent of an injury. When it happens, it happens, but how long was it bothering him without him even knowing it? So now we know where it is, and we are optimistic that he might be better."

And as for the concerns about Roethlisberger looking to be over-weight in some photos, Colbert said, "His physical shape is fine. In any offseason, we don't see our players all the time. Ninety percent of them aren't in the building. So we don't know where they are. We'll see where they are when they come back into the legal part of the offseason program. I never worry about a player's physical appearance in the offseason."

But maybe the most significant sign for Colbert that the Steelers might be getting a better version of Roethlisberger is his mental outlook.

"When you're outside looking in and you can't participate, I think you see it in a different light," said Colbert. "Some people might say, 'You know what, I don't miss this,' and walk away. Obviously, Ben didn't take that approach. He had the surgery, he's going to do the rehab as prescribed, and I think he'll come back hungrier. He wants to prove that he's not done."

Today marked the first day that NFL teams could place the franchise tag or the transition tag on a player who can become an unrestricted free agent on March 18. The deadline for such a move is not until March 10, and so the Steelers still have some time to decide whether they're going to exercise that option with Bud Dupree.

"Bud created a great decision for us because he had a great season, and that's exciting," said Colbert. "Where we go with that, who knows? He's getting a feel for what a market would be, we're getting a feel for what a market would be. We're getting a feel for what our cap would be. We don't know, but we love having that option available to us. We want Bud Dupree to finish his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers."

One of the areas of strength in this draft class is the outside linebacker position, but Colbert stressed two things: the fact the outside linebacker position is a strength in this draft has nothing to do with the Steelers' belief that they want Dupree to finish his career in Pittsburgh; and just because Le'Veon Bell sat out an entire season instead of playing under the franchise tag will not influence the team's decision on whether to utilize that option with Dupree.

And Colbert concluded his position on using tags by pointing out that every time the Steelers have chosen to use the franchise tag on a player, the team's preference was to come to a long-term agreement with the player.

"We've used the tag successfully," said Colbert. "In Le'Veon's case, we weren't able to keep the player, but it's not going to stop us from using it going forward."