This week, when the Steelers travel to Miami to play the Dolphins, rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will make his first NFL start. He played well in relief of an injured Tommy Maddox on Sunday against Baltimore, but this time Roethlisberger will be weighed down by advice, instruction and a game plan. He most assuredly will need a good night's sleep.
"I've never really had a problem being too nervous and sleeping before games," Roethlisberger said. "I'm sure I'll be fine as long as Oliver Ross doesn't snore too loud."
When Roethlisberger wakes up, the nightmare may only be starting. Rookie quarterbacks, understandably, have a history of trouble in first starts.
Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw completed only 4 of 16 passes for 70 yards in his first start. The Steelers lost, and lost again, and lost again before winning in Bradshaw's fourth start his rookie season, even though he completed only 3 of 12 passes for 24 yards.
The last quarterback the Steelers drafted in the first round, Mark Malone, didn't start as a rookie. But in his first start the following season, Malone completed 15 of 30 passes for 137 yards and two interceptions in a loss to Cincinnati.
The last rookie to start at quarterback for the Steelers was Bubby Brister, who completed 12 of 33 passes for 191 yards in a 24-22 loss to Cincinnati on a Monday night in 1986.
Can Roethlisberger play well enough to break the string of struggles against the 0-2 Dolphins?
"I hope so," he said. "But the biggest thing is not necessarily how I play but that we win. That's my number one goal. I could be the worst quarterback out there but if we come out with a victory that's all that matters to me."
Maddox, who will miss approximately six weeks with an elbow injury, was also pressed into action as a rookie No. 1 draft pick. Filling in for John Elway with the Denver Broncos in 1992, Maddox completed 18 of 26 passes for 207 yards in a 24-0 loss.
"It was challenging, but it was also exciting," Maddox said. "I know Ben's excited about the opportunity and like I said, I'm going to be there to answer any questions.
"I know he's excited about the opportunity and I think he'll go in there and do a good job."
His advice to Roethlisberger?
"Just go play," Maddox said. "I think sometimes you get wrapped up in all of the details of it and worrying about this and that. Once you get out there on Sunday, just play the game the way you're been playing it. I think he'll do that and do a good job of it."
Roethlisberger, of course, was a standout at Miami, Ohio. Last season was his best, but he got off to a slow start against Iowa when he was intercepted four times in a 21-3 loss. He told reporters Wednesday that he learned from that game not to try to do too much himself.
"The thing is when you've got playmakers around you, you've just got to kind of play within the system and do what you have to do," he said. "I'm going to try not to do too much and let those guys be the playmakers."
Against the Ravens, Roethlisberger entered with 12 minutes left in the third quarter and the Steelers behind 20-0. He led the Steelers to within 23-13 before throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown with 2:56 remaining. Roethlisberger completed 12 of 20 passes for 176 yards and two interceptions. His passer rating is 82.5.
"I started loosening up, getting more comfortable," he said. "I think that'll help this week because I didn't play a quarter or a series, I actually played about a half. So that helped me out a little bit and hopefully the comfort level will be a little easier."
Roethlisberger said his right knee is still bothering him and costing him "maybe a step." But he expects to be fine by Sunday.
"With the coverage they play, sometimes the best weapon is your feet," he said. "I'm going to try and just work on not having too happy feet, stay in the pocket as long as I can and then if stuff breaks down try to make something happen."
Sounds like he'll need a good night's rest.
"I'll sleep fine," he said.
Roethlisberger unfazed by task
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