Starkey: Ben was right about young QBs
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Ben Roethlisberger has been pretty accurate this season — almost as accurate as he was before the season.
Back in minicamp, Roethlisberger told USA Today that it might be a bit early to canonize last year's rookie quarterback class, which included Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson and might as well have included Colin Kaepernick, a second-year pro who was a first-time starter.
“People ask me all the time about these young quarterbacks,” Roethlisberger said. “Let's wait. One year does not mean a lot in this league. Let's see what happens in two, three years.”
Good call, Ben. Some of us lost our minds. I had RGIII in the Super Bowl this season. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski had one-read Kaepernick possibly becoming “one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.”
Everybody, it seemed, was ready to rank last year's class with Roethlisberger's Class of 2004 (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers) and the legendary Class of 1983, which featured Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and John Elway.
Now look: Nearly three-quarters of the way through the season, only Wilson is thriving. Luck's numbers are slightly improved, but his rookie numbers weren't great.
Kaepernick and Griffin have regressed, RGIII taking by far the biggest fall. The way his season is going, that kick in the crotch he absorbed against San Francisco would qualify as a high point.
That isn't to condemn any of the quarterbacks listed here. All might yet be Canton-bound. But to Roethlisberger's point, it takes time to forge a reputation. You hit the league by storm, the league inevitably hits back.
How do you respond?
Look at Cam Newton. He had to take a giant step backward before he took two more forward.
When I reminded Roethlisberger of his words Tuesday, he smiled and said, “Well, I just think the media is so quick to put these guys on pedestals. And it's hard. It's hard work being a quarterback in this league. It's nothing against them. I wish people would back off and not give them so much hype.”
He paused and added: “Once you can prove it a couple of years, then you can start getting that (acclaim). But defensive coordinators are so good, and defenses are so good that they're going to figure you out eventually. You got guys upstairs like Coach LeBeau, and you're telling me a one-year guy is going to outwit Coach LeBeau and be better than him? It's nothing against those guys, it's just the level of expectation that's put on them early.”
Look at what has befallen RGIII, Luck and Kaepernick:
• Griffin came back too soon from his knee injury. The signature plays of his rookie year were a ridiculous scramble-and-bomb that beat the Giants and a 76-yard sprint against the Vikings. The explosion is gone. The elusiveness is compromised. And if RGIII's not running, he's just another guy. He absorbed a wicked, Saints-on-Brett-Favre kind of beating Monday night. It's hard to watch.
• Luck pressed his luck by performing so many late-game miracles last season. He started off in a similar mode this season before going all Jake Delhomme of late. His completion percentage (58.4) is up four points but is 28th in the league and looks awful next to a paltry yards-per-attempt of 6.72. In his defense, he lost his best receiver (Reggie Wayne) and now has to look at Darrius Heyward-Bey every day.
• Kaepernick had a great game Monday, but everybody has a great game against the Redskins. It came after two outings in which he had zero completions longer than 17 yards. His numbers are down across the board. On the other hand, he just got Mario Manningham back. Favorite target Michael Crabtree is next.
Kaepernick is my bet to salvage the most out of this season. But the plight of all of these guys is why, when you finally get an established franchise quarterback such as Roethlisberger, you do everything in your power to keep him until his arm falls off. The way the Dolphins did with Marino, the Bills with Kelly and the Broncos with Elway.
Roethlisberger has stood the test of time, yet's he's still growing as a quarterback. He's tough, smart and durable.
And plenty accurate.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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