In between year 1 and year 2, I seem to recall a good many references to the fact that Ben was spending a good portion of his offseason in film work with Whisenhunt, Whipple and LeBeau.
While it seems apparent that didn't happen after the Superbowl, I never heard any mention of it, despite the fact that Cook states it was well known. (This also tells me how we can read anything coming from Cook).
I wonder if somehow the opinion of the front office toward Mark Whipple is embedded in this article as well. But that's purely speculation, and it's entirely possible that they felt Ben needed a change.
I have this gut feeling, that this might be one reason the Steelers felt more comfortable going outside the organization to hire Tomlin.
Ron Cook: Big Ben must return with better work ethic
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
It's quite plausible, as former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt suggested over the weekend, that Ben Roethlisberger's physical trauma contributed significantly to his lousy season in 2006. It had to have some impact, didn't it? A near-death experience in a horrific motorcycle accident. An emergency appendectomy. A concussion. How much abuse can a body take? How much mental anguish?
But while we're talking plausible, here's another theory:
Big Ben's poor work habits had just as much to do with his rotten play.
In that sense, Whisenhunt's candid observations about Roethlisberger at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis might do the Steelers considerable harm. The last thing Roethlisberger needs about now is an excuse. A kick in the fanny from new coach Mike Tomlin, perhaps. But definitely not an excuse.
In fairness to Whisenhunt, now the Arizona Cardinals' head coach, he wasn't trying to put the Steelers in a bad spot. He merely answered a question about the potential impact of Roethlisberger's injuries and appendectomy on his performance. He said, stressing hindsight, that he, along with everyone else in the organization, including former coach Bill Cowher, might have underestimated the effects of the accident on Roethlisberger. He said he noticed Roethlisberger seemed gun-shy in the pocket much of the season. He also said, again in hindsight, that the team might have been better off playing backup Charlie Batch in the second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars instead of starting Roethlisberger, who was just 15 days past his appendectomy and had missed the opener against the Miami Dolphins.
An honest answer to a fair question, to be sure.
But let's get one thing straight:
Hindsight or no hindsight, Cowher, Whisenhunt and the others did nothing wrong in their handling of Roethlisberger last season. Team doctors cleared Roethlisberger. He wanted to play. He's the franchise quarterback. The Steelers had to play him. They can live with his failures, his 23 interceptions, the team's disappointing 8-8 record. But losing with their backup quarterback would have been intolerable.
No one can say for sure what effects Roethlisberger's trauma had on him. Even now, he probably can't determine that. How do you measure something so ambiguous?
What we do know, though, is Roethlisberger almost certainly would have played better if he had cared more about his job. Maybe it was his immaturity. He won't turn 25 until Friday. Maybe he was a bit too full of himself after his first two NFL seasons were so spectacular. Who knows? But it wasn't exactly a secret at the Steelers' South Side headquarters that Big Ben wasn't the team's hardest worker. A lot of people -- team executives, coaches and even players -- joked how he frequently was the last on and the first off the practice field, although they didn't see much humor in it. Seldom did he stay after practice to throw to his receivers and work on his timing with them even though Hines Ward missed training camp with a hamstring injury, Nate Washington was getting his first real playing time and Santonio Holmes was a rookie. Maybe it would have been different if he had been putting in extra time in the film room. But he wasn't. He's no Peyton Manning that way.
It's nice to think Roethlisberger learned from everything that happened to him last year. One day soon, when he meets with the local media for the first time since the end of last season, he'll be asked about Whisenhunt's comments. Here's hoping he responds by saying: "You know what? I didn't play well last season. The reasons don't matter. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Actually, Roethlisberger said something along those lines after he threw two interceptions in a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in December, a defeat that eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention.
"I told some of the receivers and some of the other guys that we need to get better. I'm going to stay around here a lot. We'll work out together this offseason and get better together."
Thursday is March 1.
It's time for Roethlisberger to start living up to his word and honoring his commitment.
It's up to Tomlin to make sure he does.
Getting Big Ben right has to be the new coaching staff's No. 1 priority.