Steelers react to Roethlisberger's 'E:60' talk
News that franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called himself a bad teammate early in his career caught Steelers players off-guard Wednesday.
Roethlisberger made the admission one night earlier during a national television interview on ESPN's primetime news program, "E:60."
"That surprises me," said defensive lineman Brett Keisel, who is Roethlisberger's closest friend on the team. "That doesn't sound like something he would say."
In a 10-minute interview Tuesday that also focused on pending sexual assault allegations against Roethlisberger, the Steelers' quarterback talked about the relationships he has forged with his teammates since entering the NFL in 2004.
"I wasn't a good leader early on and I wasn't the best teammate I could've been the first couple of years," Roethlisberger said. "I was invincible; I was Superman. I was probably a little too confident, a little too cocky at times."
During his first couple of years in the NFL, it wasn't uncommon for Roethlisberger to isolate himself from people, teammates included. It was common practice during meals at training camp for Roethlisberger to either sit at a table by himself or take his food back to his dorm room.
Even while throwing a single-season franchise-record 32 touchdown passes in 2007, Roethlisberger was snubbed for the team MVP award, with the honor going to first-year starting linebacker James Harrison.
Keisel, though, never got the impression that Roethlisberger was a bad teammate.
"I don't think that was the consensus of the team back then," Keisel said. "Ben came in and had a lot on his shoulders right away. He had a lot of pressure."
Roethlisberger did not meet with the media yesterday.
Said veteran defensive back Deshea Townsend: "As far as he was when he first got here, he has always been a good teammate. He has always been a guy we've gotten along with well in the locker room."
Linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior, who dresses only a few lockers away from Roethlisberger, feels the same.
"I wouldn't say he wasn't a good teammate," Farrior said. "It was just, I think, a lot of things were happening around him. Being a quarterback of a good team, you have a lot of expectations that you might not realize."
Toss in that Roethlisberger enjoyed unparalleled success over his first two NFL seasons — he won 14 consecutive games as a rookie and a Super Bowl in his second campaign — only made it worse. Farrior said Roethlisberger's unmatched achievements early in his career put demands on his time that in turn isolated the franchise quarterback him from his teammates.
"It's tough for a young guy sometimes being cast into that spotlight and that role if you're not used to it," Farrior said. "It can get to you, and it might seem like you're distancing yourself from everybody."
Roethlisberger said it remained that way until backup quarterback Charlie Batch pulled him aside before the 2008 season for a heart-to-heart talk.
"Some things were easy to hear and some things were tough to hear," Roethlisberger said on "E:60." "Charlie helped me to become a good teammate and friend to a lot of these guys."
Batch declined comment on Roethlisberger's situation yesterday.
Roethlisberger started to make an effort to spend more time with his teammates, especially his offensive line. He has taken the linemen on many excursions, including in September when he hosted WWE's "Monday Night Raw" in Wilkes-Barre.
"I think it made a big difference," Roethlisberger said.
After the conversation with Batch in 2008, Roethlisberger has been playing his best football.
He led the team to its second Super Bowl victory just months after Batch's intervention and has followed that with a record-breaking first half of this season. He was named a Steelers' co-captain for a second consecutive year.
In leading the Steelers to a 6-2 record, Roethlisberger has thrown for 2,295 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has completed 70.6 percent of his passes. He is on pace to become the first Steelers quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a season.
"The biggest thing is that he opened up to everybody," Keisel said.
Added Farrior: "I think he's matured over the years, and I think it's come full circle. You can tell that he cares about everybody on the team. Now, he's a great teammate."