Sunday, February 22, 2004

To NFL experts, Roethlisberger has right stuff



By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

INDIANAPOLIS - Thirteen victories, 37 touchdowns and 4,486 passing yards later, Ben Roethlisberger from Miami of Ohio is no longer a secret.

[img]
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from Miami U. takes questions at a news conference at the NFL combine in Indianapolis Friday.
(AP photo)
A lot of NFL people still can't correctly pronounce or spell his German surname - he is often referred to simply as Ben - but they all know who he is now.

The NFL scouting combine this week has served as Roethlisberger's cotillion, and the debutante from Findlay, Ohio, via Miami University, wowed them.

"Everything you've read and heard about him is accurate," St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz said Saturday.

Roethlisberger came across as confident yet sincerely small-town humble in meetings with coaches and during his introduction to the national pro football media.

First question: Who's better, you or Eli (Manning)?

Answer: "That's a good question. I think we're both pretty good quarterbacks."

Q: How badly do you want to be first pick?

A: "It's more than that. It's just an opportunity for me to play. Being No. 1 is a great thing, but I just want the opportunity to play football, for whatever team wherever. It's just a dream to play."

Roethlisberger, a slam-dunk top-five draft pick, will throw today before scouts and coaches in the RCA Dome. He said he would wait to run until March 25 in Oxford.

He's got the size (6-feet-5, 240 pounds), the strength, mobility and smarts.

"My impressions are that he is a top quarterback," said former Bengals coach Sam Wyche, hired two weeks ago as Buffalo's quarterbacks coach. "Most quarterbacks with skills that he has make it in the pros.

"There are occasionally some that don't make the transition, but when you break his game down and add his size and intellect, I think he's going to be a very good player."

Gil Brandt, the former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, liked what he saw of Roethlisberger physically. Then he sat down and talked with him.

"He's really a guy, when you speak to him, (who's) very impressive," Brandt said. "He carries himself well. He's not a braggart. He's articulate."

Eagles assistant head coach Marty Mornhinweg, former college quarterback and Lions head coach, noticed a maturity in Roethlisberger's game.

"He's big, strong, very accurate, completes a lot of passes, but I remember making notes that he has excellent touch," Mornhinweg said.

Unlike Manning, the brother (Peyton) and son (Archie) of NFL quarterbacks, Roethlisberger does not have that kind of bloodline. At Findlay High School, he played wide receiver until his senior year, but in his first season as a prep quarterback, Roethlisberger threw 54 touchdowns and threw for more than 4,000 yards.

The coach's son, he said this week, was the quarterback until he graduated. Ryan Hite went on to play wide receiver at Denison. Roethlisberger ended up playing quarterback at Miami.

He has no hard feelings.

"There aren't too many regrets," Roethlisberger said. "I'm up here now. I got the chance to be at Miami. It was a great place. Now I get the chance to live a dream."

Roethlisberger also was a high school point guard.

"Basketball was my first love, and I always thought I would go to college and play basketball," Roethlisberger said. "But after I had an OK senior year at quarterback, it seemed like the right fit for me and the next step was to play college football. The chance to play in the NFL started to be more realistic as the years went on."

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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