It's the time of year when honors are handed out and that was the case when Ben Roethlisberger and Chase Claypool were both honored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America. Roethlisberger is the winner of 'The Chief' Award, while Claypool won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented to the team's top rookie.
'The Chief' Award, which was established in honor of Steelers' founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr., is presented annually to a member of the Steelers' organization that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media that he embodied. This is the second time Roethlisberger won the award, previously doing so in 2010.
In a year like no other working with the media, Roethlisberger is always willing to step up no matter what the situation. Whether it was during the week or after games, he has mastered being available via Zoom through good and bad. He has never shied away from talking and answers every question. He is so consistent that Wednesdays are now affectionately called 'Bensday.'
And Roethlisberger has had a consistent message the entire season. It hasn't been about statistics, but just about winning and getting back to where the Steelers are accustomed to being, the postseason.
"I would say the biggest stat is (the record)," said Roethlisberger earlier this season. "I don't think anybody cares about their stats right now. No one is complaining. No one is coming to me. I am not exactly playing lights out. Their stats are directly reflective of the way I play. If I am not playing well, their stats aren't going to be very good. Obviously, some of their numbers are down because I am not playing as well as I should be and need to be playing."
Roethlisberger, who is in his 17th season and holds the Steelers record for most games played with 233, provided insight into multiple areas this season that he hadn't previously. For starters, the potential Hall of Fame quarterback spent time in practice early in the season working on anything from the basics a rookie would focus on to the minute details that makes him the perfectionist he is.
Ben Roethlisberger won 'The Chief' Award, for exemplifying cooperation with the media
"Going back and reviewing, I felt from Week 1 to Week 2, my pocket presence and awareness was better," explained Roethlisberger early on. "I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm. There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow. I don't want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn't need to.
"There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then I won't be guiding some of the throws. That, to me, is the biggest thing I'm going to work on (in practice), even though it's an off day. I'm going to really work on my feet and kind of starting it there with translating the rest of my body."
Roethlisberger spent time on a Wednesday, normally a day off for him from throwing, working on his footwork, something he has spoken about often when it comes to what he works on but coming off missing the 2019 season and having surgery he knows every aspect has to be spot on.
"I've gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people," said Roethlisberger. "Whether it's the layoff, whether it's the surgery, like I said, I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I'm not in the perfect position to make them."
It hasn't just been on 'Bensday' that Roethlisberger has opened himself up. Throughout his entire career Roethlisberger has kept his personal feelings, his emotions private. He has never been one to open up about them publicly, instead always keeping the focus on football.
Until this year.
Roethlisberger was the subject of a new documentary style mini-series, "Bigger Than Ben," a four-part series by Mango Dragon Productions.
The series took you through the journey Roethlisberger went through during the 2019 season and his elbow injury and his offseason recovery, to come back in 2020 for training camp stronger than ever.
Heading into the 2019 season, Roethlisberger was the subject of criticism from many in the national media after the Steelers missed the playoffs. Some were relentless, bashing him for everything from his play to his leadership. For a player who takes a great deal of pride in being there for his teammates, he admitted that it did get to him.
"I'd lie if I said it didn't bother me," Roethlisberger shared in the series. "It's definitely hurtful when your character, your integrity, things are challenged and talked about, especially when you know better."
The Steelers didn't have a pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, after trading it to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick. But they still found first-round talent, including second-round pick Chase Claypool, the dynamic wide receiver out of Notre Dame.
Claypool made a splash this season while being a major contributor to the offense, which is why he received the Joe Greene Great Performance Award.
Claypool started off with a bang, even in training camp, earning praise early on from his teammates even before playing in a game.
"He has impressed me for sure," said cornerback Joe Haden during camp. "Just his size, his speed, his ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He doesn't say too much. He is out there every day asking questions, just getting the routes. He has been doing a really good job. I think he is a great young talent. His work ethic shows he wants to be great. He doesn't do too much talking. He just gets after it. As long as he knows the playbook, him and Ben are on accord with the checks, he has all of the physical attributes to be a baller.
"He is a big, fast receiver. He is able to adjust to the ball in the air. He is a big body, deep threat, with soft hands who can jump up and get it.
Chase Claypool won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented to the team's top rookie
"As long as he just keeps going, staying healthy, I think he is going to be a baller."
He was spot on. Claypool has been a baller this year. Through 15 games, he has 57 receptions for 772 yards, a 13.5-yard average, and eight receiving touchdowns, adding 10 carries for 16 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
"He's talented," said Roethlisberger. "He has got some God-given abilities that not many people in this world have. He's big, fast, and strong, and he's very, very smart."
Claypool had a day very few in Steelers history have had In Week 4 when he scored four touchdowns in the Steelers 38-29 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Claypool had seven receptions for 110 yards, three of those seven catches were touchdowns, and also rushed for a two-yard score.
"He works. He works hard," said Roethlisberger. "He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I've said this numerous times. If he does make a mistake, he won't make the same one twice, and I think that says a lot about a young guy."
Claypool became the first rookie in team history to score four touchdowns in a game, and only the third player in team history to do so, the last one when Roy Jefferson caught four touchdown passes against Atlanta on Nov. 3, 1968, while also becoming only the third player in team history to score 24 points in a game.
Claypool also became the first Steelers rookie with a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game since Franco Harris did it at Buffalo in 1972.
"He is a freakish dude to be that big and that athletic," said cornerback Mike Hilton early on. "The way he is able to use his body to go up and make some great plays when the ball is in the air. I feel like the offense is going to have fun with that new toy."
Claypool has had multiple receptions in all but two games this season, including a career high against Dallas when he had eight receptions, going for 68 yards. He has earned praise from all around the NFL and has been a nightmare for opposing coaches and defensive coordinators.
"The tape speaks for itself,' said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh. "He was high on our board coming out. I thought they did a great job picking him, certainly fits what they do. He would fit what most anybody does. He is a big, strong, big radius receiver. He has speed, he is tough, he blocks, he does a heck of a job and he makes big plays."