Kevin Gorman: Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger to be better leader
For a guy their general manager called the “unquestioned leader” of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s interesting to hear former teammates and former NFL players question Ben Roethlisberger’s leadership.
Whether it’s Josh Harris claiming Roethlisberger purposely fumbled or Isaac Redman saying Roethlisberger didn’t do enough to build relationships in the locker room, the criticism easily can be dismissed as just that: criticism from Josh Harris and Ike Redman.
Even Antonio Brown ripping Roethlisberger for having an owner’s mentality can be viewed as an attempt to pull a bait-and-switch by projecting Roethlisberger as the villain and himself as the victim.
But those who believe the Steelers’ problems left with Brown’s trade to Oakland and Bell signing with the New York Jets aren’t taking into consideration the collateral damage left on a locker room former Steelers tight end Jesse James described as “out of control.”
When it comes to taking ownership and leadership of that locker room, there’s no question Roethlisberger needs to be better. That’s not to blame Big Ben for all of the Steelers’ troubles but rather to suggest he becomes a bigger part of the solution this season.
It’s going to take more than a “follow me.”
If winning the Super Bowl is still the standard, the Steelers have fallen short for more than a decade. Their hopes of claiming a seventh Lombardi Trophy start squarely with the 37-year-old franchise quarterback who is their only active player with a championship ring.
That’s not to put all of this on Big Ben. A Steelers veteran told me center Maurkice Pouncey is the player whose words command the most respect in the locker room, but that he doesn’t speak up often enough. Defensive end Cam Heyward is a stand-up spokesman, win or lose, but he needs to hold the defense more accountable.
Their offseason moves are signs the Steelers prioritized the protection of Roethlisberger. They offered a $3 million tender to backup guard-center B.J. Finney, a restricted free agent; extended Pouncey through 2021; and prevented left guard Ramon Foster from exploring free agency with a two-year contract.
General manager Kevin Colbert made it clear last month the club would cast its lot with Roethlisberger, calling him the “unquestioned leader of this group.” They are expected to soon sign the 15-year veteran to a contract extension that will allow him to finish his career here.
The Steelers aren’t buying the narrative that Roethlisberger is a lousy leader, but they shouldn’t turn a blind eye or deaf ear to it, either.
Roethlisberger apparently is paying attention.
After being ripped by Brown for not working out together in the offseason, Roethlisberger reportedly texted Donte Moncrief immediately after the wide receiver signed a free-agent deal with the Steelers, offering to throw him passes in an attempt to create chemistry.
That’s a positive start.
Next, Roethlisberger needs to show the same support for the Steelers as they have for done for him by answering some important questions:
Will he support their draft picks after second-guessing the drafting of quarterback Mason Rudolph? Will he show up for and stay through voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp — even if he doesn’t participate in the practices — instead of scheduling a vacation?
Whether he believes he has earned it, will Roethlisberger realize he needs to stop the public criticism of teammates on his weekly radio show? If the Steelers are to subscribe to pointing the thumb instead of the finger, will that start with their quarterback?
Can Roethlisberger lead the Steelers to another Super Bowl victory?
Those are the leading questions for their unquestioned leader, and the Steelers are banking big on Big Ben to be their answer.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .