Friday, March 26, 2004

QB Ben packs 'em in for pro workout

RedHawk shows NFL reps he's worth high pick

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is projected to be a top-five pick in this year's NFL draft.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/TONY JONES
OXFORD - Not since the funeral of hall-of-fame coach Weeb Ewbank in 1998 has Miami University been the center of the NFL universe.

It was on Thursday.

The pro-day workout of former RedHawks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the attraction, and a half-dozen draft-eligible ex-teammates tried to catch some of the refracted attention.

Scouts or assistant coaches from nearly all 32 NFL teams made their way to Oxford. Two head coaches, Green Bay's Mike Sherman and the Giants' Tom Coughlin - along with Giants' general manager Ernie Accorsi and three of the club's scouts - were there, too.

Charting each of the players' moves with stopwatches and clipboards, scouts watched them lift weights, jump, sprint and run agility drills before congregating in Yager Stadium for the main event: Ben throws.

And Roethlisberger, a sure-fire top-five pick rated along with Mississippi's Eli Manning as one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft, did not disappoint.

He threw long and short, soft and hard, down the middle and toward the sideline - showing off his impressive arm and timing on the deep out pattern.

Roethlisberger ran 4.76 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And he clocked an 11.8 - considered fast for a quarterback - on a three-cone agility drill.

The Packers have the 25th pick in the first round and a quarterback named Brett Favre, but that didn't stop Sherman from making the trip.

"He's probably going be gone before we pick, but I always want to cover our bases in case something happens - he falls or we move up," Sherman said. "I thought he had an excellent workout. He did everything here he does on tape. You have to watch the game tape to really appreciate what kind of quarterback he is and what kind of leadership skills he has."

Roethlisberger threw for about 30 minutes to several receivers - including former Miami teammates Cal Murray, a running back, and tight end Matt Brandt.

"Not really," Roethlisberger said when asked if he were nervous. "I was more excited than anything. It was an opportunity to come out and have fun, and that's exactly what we did."

But the workout on Thursday was not Roethlisberger's only one of the week in Oxford. He held a private display for officials and coaches from the Chargers, who have the first overall pick, on Tuesday. San Diego owner Alex Spanos, general manager A.J. Smith, coach Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron were in attendance.

On Wednesday night, Roethlisberger was Coughlin's guest for dinner at Di Paolo's Restaurant in uptown Oxford. The Giants have the fourth overall pick and are said to like Roethlisberger so much as Kerry Collins' replacement that they'll trade up to get him. They like Roethlisberger's heartland sensibilities as an antidote to the pressure of playing in New York.

"I thought it was a very good day for him," was Coughlin's only comment when asked about Roethlisberger's workout.

Roethlisberger's stock was believed to have fallen after what some scouts said was a poor throwing performance at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month.

Miami coach Terry Hoeppner, who organized the pro workouts for his former players, came to Roethlisberger's defense.

"You have maybe 20 throws, and you have to stand in a long line of other quarterbacks who are throwing," Hoeppner said of the combine throwing drill. "The point is he threw at the combine. Some other guys didn't throw at the combine. It says volumes about him.

"The people who know the game, I don't think it affected them. All today did was either confirm or convince people that he's a special player. He's fast, he's accurate, he's strong. He has incredible touch. He can throw the ball the length of the football field. Other than that, I don't know what you want in a quarterback."

Leigh Steinberg is Roethlisberger's agent. Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon, a consultant for Steinberg's agency, was at Miami as a show of support. While in California working out, Roethlisberger spent a great deal of time with Moon, on and off the field.

"He needed to work on getting away from the center because he worked out out of the shotgun in college so much," said Moon, a boyhood hero of Roethlisberger.

"It's a dream come true," Roethlisberger said of his impending pro status. "I've always wanted to play in the NFL. Everything I get to do, meet all these coaches, see (Raiders owner) Al Davis, visit with Warren Moon, it's a dream coming true. It's hard to believe. I have pinch myself and make sure it's true."


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