Mark Morgan: Merril, 17 days ago Ben Roethlisberger had a near-death experience. In your mind, how did the motorcycle accident affect and/or change him.
Merril Hoge: Well, I think we all need perspective in life and sometimes at a young age you don't have perspective on what you have, the opportunities that are before him, and I actually think this will be a blessing in disguise for Ben Roethlisberger. I know that when you look at the near-death experience, your life and the value and what kind of life you're going to be able to live is number one, but then to be able to look at the career that you almost lost and the opportunity now to be able to play, I think he'll be more passionate about it. I think he was a hard worker already but I think that the more detailed, the more focused -- things you usually don't get until your eighth or ninth season -- he will have earlier. I think he will be a better quarterback for it. Once all these injuries heal and he's able to play, I actually think we'll see a better person and a better football player out of Ben Roethlisberger.
MM: Now when you were a young NFL player, did you have a sense of infallability or invulnerability?
MH: You got it.
MM: But it seems like maybe with Roethlisberger that was something that had to be not proven wrong to him, but this really kind of put that all in perspective for him.
MH: I always measure everybody in the yardsticks of their own years. You know, when you're in your thirties or forties or fifties, you're like 'Oh, how can you be thinking like that?' So you always have to back yourself up. Now, when I was 22, how did I look at those things? I think Ben looked at himself and asked 'What's the real danger?' And I think the more people said, 'You shouldn't, you shouldn't,' I do what most people do: I'm gonna do it for sure. Obviously, most people realize he should've had the helmet on, but thank goodness he didn't lose his life and I think Ben Roethlisberger looks at it now and says, 'Man, I should've wore a helmet. Accidents can happen.' So I think it's about perspective again. I think he looks at it. I think he's handled it great. And I think these are the kind of things that actually keep mounting as days go on. When you start to reflect on it, I think it becomes heavier and heavier as time goes on, so I think it's something that will help him become a better player and a better person.
MM: Seventy days from tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers open against the Miami Dolphins. Does Roethlisberger think he will be ready? Does the organization think he'll be ready? Or is it too early to even make that assessment?
MH: I think it's too early but I don't think there's any question Ben Roethlisberger believes he's going to be the starter against the Miami Dolphins. But here's what has to take place: There's going to be a six-week window -- we've already went through two of those weeks and have about another four to go -- before any doctor can say, 'Yes, Ben, you can go in and play because your jaw has healed perfectly.' They have to make sure that the broken jaw, the surgery, all the things that were replaced and repaired, are perfectly healed. As each week goes on, doctors are going to be more confident, but it's going to be another two to three weeks before doctors know for sure that Ben Roethlisberger will be able to start. One thing I do like about his position: Quarterbacks don't get banged around like linebackers or running backs do during the course of practice, so he's going to be able to keep his rhythm and timing, even though he can't take hits.