Draft: Big talents from small schools

Michigan State, Arizona State, Texas, Georgia, Auburn, Indiana, USC, Florida State.<br><br> Powerful, strong, big-school football. It's the early-round mode of drafting operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers.<br><br> Or at least it used to be.

Kevin Colbert changed those methods yesterday by selecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of Miami University of Ohio in the first round and then cornerback Ricardo Colclough of tiny Tusculum College, a Division II school in Greeneville, Tennessee, in the second.

Roethlisberger (ROTH-ulz-bur-ger) and Colclough (COKE-lee) may come from small schools, however, they are considered big-time talents.

The Steelers traded a fourth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts to move up six spots in the second round to draft Colclough, a 5-10 ½, 186-pound cornerback. He ran a 4.4 40 two weeks ago at his pro day workout.

But Colclough wasn't even half the story on Saturday. The Steelers didn't draft their man Phillip Rivers, who was taken fourth and then traded to the San Diego Chargers, but they may have drafted a better long-term prospect in Roethlisberger, a 6-4 7/8, 242-pound quarterback out of the Mid-American Conference.

Roethlisberger played poorly in his team's opener against Iowa last season. He threw four interceptions and the RedHawks were whipped, 21-3. Roethlisberger rebounded to guide Miami to 13 consecutive wins to finish as the 10th-ranked team in the nation.

In those final 13 games, Roethlisberger threw 37 touchdown passes and just 6 interceptions. He finished the season with a 69.1 completion percentage, 4,486 passing yards and a MAC championship ring.

A three-year starter, Roethlisberger was considered a top-10 talent immediately after the season, but late interest in Rivers, and a top 10 packed with teams already in possession of young quarterbacks, allowed Roethlisberger to slip to the Steelers.

Colbert could barely contain his excitement when he met the media.

"We're very, very excited about this," he said. "We're excited about the opportunity to get a young quarterback. We said in the pre-draft stuff that we thought this was a realistic possibility. The more research that we did, the truer it became. It just came to us and it was great. We're excited. We think this kid's potential is unlimited. I don't even think he's scratched the surface yet."

Roethlisberger isn't expected to compete for a starting job next season. The Steelers plan to keep Tommy Maddox in the lineup and will probably keep Charlie Batch as the back-up. Since Roethlisberger won't help the Steelers much next season, the pick could be considered a gutsy move by Cowher and Colbert, two men on a warm seat after a 6-10 season.

"It's all in how you want to view it," Cowher said. "You can call it gutsy or whatever, but you have to look at how the board has been put together and to follow that, particularly when you are picking higher in the round."

Cowher said he didn't want to pass on a young quarterback with the 11th pick since he doesn't expect to pick so low in the foreseeable future.

"It's too golden an opportunity to pass," Cowher said.

Roethlisberger grew up in Findlay, Ohio, approximately an hour south of Toledo. He didn't play quarterback at Findlay High School until his senior season. He'd played wide receiver behind Ryan Hite, son of coach Cliff Hite.

"I'm a nationally known knucklehead," Cliff Hite told the Toledo Blade. "We did a bunch of drills and my son throwing to Ben was a better combination, we thought, than the other way around."

Roethlisberger gained the starting job as a senior and threw an astounding 54 touchdown passes. He was the runner-up in Ohio's Mr. Football balloting and chose Miami over Duke and Ohio State.

After redshirting as a freshman, Roethlisberger moved into the Miami lineup Sept. 1, 2001 and remained there until leaving school a year early. He finished with 84 touchdown passes, 34 interceptions and 10,829 yards.

A fan of Joe Montana growing up, Roethlisberger is being compared to former Buffalo Bills star Jim Kelly as he prepares for his pro career.

"I've said many times, if I can be half as good as Jim Kelly was I'll be very happy," Roethlisberger said. "I want to try to be my own quarterback, but like I said it's quite an honor to be compared to people like that."

Scouts like Roethlisberger's size, mobility, ability to throw on the move and his big arm. He estimated he could throw "seventy-some yards."

"He has a bazooka," one scout told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I saw him in the (MAC) championship game and he threw it 65 in warm-ups with gloves on."

There is that knock, however, about the caliber of competition Roethlisberger has faced.

"He did what you'd expect at that level, dominate," said Colbert. "There was no question he was the best player in that conference and that's what you'd expect. If it's viewed to be less of a competitive conference, you want him to dominate and he certainly did that.

"We don't think he's reached his peak yet. We're getting a guy who's on his way up. Some of his physical attributes are very exciting."

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