Rookies receive high marks

<b>LATROBE --</b> During Tommy Maddox's rookie season with the Denver Broncos, starting quarterback John Elway made it a point not to comment on the progress of the first-round pick.<p>"That's one thing I learned from him," said Maddox, who refuses to comment on the development of his back-up, Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger.

There are plenty of people, though, who will talk about the prized Steelers rookie after Roethlisberger completed 8 of 13 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' 27-21 loss to the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

"He was very poised," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "As we progress into the preseason, things will get a little quicker, some of the first-team guys will be playing a little bit longer, things will be moving around a little bit quicker, but for his first game in that environment - there was just enough noise to make it hard to hear - I thought he performed well."

Roethlisberger said he expected to be more nervous, but on his first attempt he rolled right, avoided the rush, and completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Jay Riemersma. In his second series, Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El and nonchalantly walked off the field.

"I was surprisingly calm," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't have any butterflies at all. I think that is a good sign."

The performance cemented Roethlisberger's new role as Maddox's primary back-up. After the game, Coach Bill Cowher said he wouldn't seek a replacement for veteran Charlie Batch, who was placed on injured reserve on Friday, meaning Roethlisberger is an injury away from becoming the starter.

"You don't want to wish anything like that on somebody," Roethlisberger said. "But you have to be prepared for anything and I am going to do everything I can to be mentally and physically ready."

Whisenhunt believes the rookie is close.

"He's just got to continue to see his reads and get his throws out a little bit quicker in certain situations, but overall he's really progressing well," Whisenhunt said.

Second-round pick Ricardo Colclough also played very well Saturday. The cornerback made three tackles, broke up a pass, had 131 yards on four punt returns and two kickoff returns, made one special teams tackle and recovered a fumble. The former Tusculum star looked like he belonged on the field that night.

"After playing the game, my confidence level just skyrocketed," Colclough said. "It was just sort of getting out there and trying to get the feel of everything and sort of compare myself to the other guys. Once I did that, I held my own."

Third-round pick Max Starks struggled in his first few series at right tackle, but finished strong. He can thank Lions' defensive end Jared DeVries for pumping him up. The two were involved in a post-whistle altercation, and a few players later DeVries slapped Starks in the face.

"I thought I played decent," Starks said. "It wasn't one of my better games but it was a starting point. It was a solid first game for me."

"He's getting better," said line coach Russ Grimm. "His technique work is getting better and I love his attitude. He works. He's going to be a good football player. He's not there yet but he's working at it. Luckily, we're in a position where he has some time, but he gets better and better every day."

Other rookies drawing praise from those who watched game tape were undrafted free agents Zamir Cobb and Dedrick Roper.

Cobb, a wide receiver from Temple, caught two passes for 37 yards, including a 29-yarder on fourth-and-28 in the fourth quarter. Roper, an outside linebacker from Division I-AA Northwood, made four tackles on defense and one tackle on special teams.

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