Breaking down the Steelers: The Quarterbacks

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers intrigued us, made us smile and surprised even their harshest critics. <p> Ultimately, however, they disappointed. <p>

But there is plenty to be excited about for next season. The core of the team is under contract for next season and the Steelers will open the 2005 season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

This will be a position-by-position look at the Steelers from 2004.

Today: The quarterbacks.

It's been some time since Steelers fans as a group have gotten behind a quarterback. But that's what they did this season for rookie Ben Roethlisberger.

The first quarterback selected by the Steelers in the first round of the draft since Mark Malone in 1980, Roethlisberger was the third quarterback and 11th player selected in last year's draft. But he quickly proved that he very well may be the best of them all.

The plan was for Roethlisberger to spend the season on the bench behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. But Batch injured his knee in training camp and went on injured reserve. And Maddox suffered a sprained elbow in the team's second regular season game at Baltimore.

Roethlisberger entered that game with the Steelers trailing 20-0 early in the third quarter. They ended up losing, 30-13, but that would be the last time the Steelers would see a defeat for the next four months as they won a team-record 15 consecutive games before losing 41-27 to New England in the AFC Championship.

Roethlisberger was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year after setting NFL rookie records for completion percentage (66.4) and passer rating (98.1).

But there's still plenty to learn. And that's got to be the scary part for other NFL teams. Though he managed games well for the Steelers, he was still prone to some mistake throws and reads, as evidenced by his 10 interceptions in his final five games, including five in two playoff games.

Roethlisberger said during his final meeting with reporters at season's end that he had a tired arm. That's to be expected for a rookie. But the Steelers - and fans - will expect more in 2005. This is a big offseason for Roethlisberger.

As for Maddox, he's under contract for 2005, but whether he comes back remains to be seen.

Maddox wasn't happy when the team drafted Roethlisberger and feels he can still be a starter somewhere else in the league. It's possible given the state of quarterbacking in the NFL.

The Steelers would like to have Maddox back as Roethlisberger's backup, but if he doesn't want that position, they may part ways.

That would open the door for Batch to return as Roethlisberger's backup. Batch is an unrestricted free agent, but has said he would love to stay in his hometown, even if it meant doing so as a backup.

While Roethlisberger was quick to mention how good it was to have a veteran quarterback like Maddox around to help him this season, it was actually Batch who has more of a connection with him. Both are former MAC quarterbacks and are closer in age than Roethlisberger and Maddox, who have little in common.

Brian St. Pierre spent part of the season on the active roster and part on the practice squad. He won't be eligible for the practice squad next season and was unhappy with the way the team jerked him on and off the active roster.

St. Pierre was also unhappy that Roethlisberger was drafted, though only because he knew it meant he would never get an opportunity to play in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won't draft a quarterback during the draft, but they most certainly will bring in a rookie free agent who could beat St. Pierre out for the No. 3 job.

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