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Big Ben the QB can't address Steelers' needs

| Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Steelers welcomed Ben Roethlisberger, all 6-foot-4 7/8 and 241 pounds of him, to the South Side on Tuesday for what amounted to a recruiting visit in advance of next weekend's NFL Draft.

Although rain prevented the quarterback from Miami (Ohio) from taking a tour of Heinz Field, the Steelers audibled and provided a drive-by opportunity for Roethlisberger to inspect his potential new home. Roethlisberger also had a chance to examine the practice facilities across town, and to meet all of the Steelers' offensive coaches, head coach Bill Cowher and Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.

It was an opportunity for Roethlisberger to get to know the Steelers and vice-versa.

Roethlisberger also met the media, delivering an unrehearsed personal presentation that was as impressive as his resume.

For Roethlisberger, who made no such visits to NFL teams previously and planned to make no subsequent ones upon heading home to Findlay, Ohio, and for Steelers fans who are no doubt already salivating over a player they envision as their next savior, it all had to be very exciting.

For the Steelers, it was a waste of time.

That's not to say Roethlisberger won't be available when the Steelers select 11th overall a week from Saturday, or that he won't make his mark in the NFL someday. But whether he's there or already gone, the Steelers would be wise to pass on Roethlisberger and the rest of the chosen-few collegians who have been designated as possible franchise NFLers and look elsewhere in the first round.

No offense to Roethlisberger or to the Mid-American Conference, but who needs him?

The same can be said for Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, J.P. Losman and anyone else the self-proclaimed draftniks have anointed as a player the Steelers "won't be able to pass on" the first time they're on the clock.

There are plenty of reasons why the Steelers should do exactly that, and address the secondary, the pass rush or the offensive line when their first turn occurs.

The most compelling argument for doing so is that there's just no percentage in selecting a quarterback that high. Teams have gone that route 42 times since 1983, and a mere six of those first-round quarterbacks have appeared in Super Bowls with the teams that drafted them.

More recently, the likes of Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Jake Delhomme have made it from the World League to the Super Bowl.

It takes too much time to develop quarterbacks, and those who arrive with a first-round price tag require too much of a financial investment, both initially and especially in the event they wind up delivering as advertised. At the rate the Colts are compensating Peyton Manning, they're going to have to make him a partial owner someday to retain his services, and Manning has won all of two playoff games.

Delhomme, a scrap-heap reclamation, and former sixth-round pick Tom Brady are the two quarterbacks who opposed one another in the most recent Super Bowl.

There are always plenty of those types available for teams that know what they're looking for and are willing to pick through someone else's perceived garbage.

The Steelers did so a couple of years ago and came up with a gem in Tommy Maddox.

He can shine for them again if they provide him with a running game and an offensive line, which might be accomplished by getting Duce Staley into a uniform and by keeping Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons healthy this season.

The defense is also in need of some immediate, first-round attention.

That makes quarterback a luxury the Steelers can't afford, and Roethlisberger's recruiting visit academic, no matter how much both sides appeared to enjoy the experience.

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