Ben Roethlisberger experienced the NFL in an entirely new way in 2019. And while he obviously doesn't want to spend another season on the sideline, Roethlisberger did take advantage of his opportunity to see the game from a different vantage point.
Roethlisberger, the Steelers' veteran quarterback who missed most of last season with an elbow injury, said that he was able to see certain things from some of his offensive teammates that he otherwise would have missed had he been on the field last season. One of the things he noticed was the maturity of JuJu Smith-Schuster, his young receiver who endured a rocky season as far as health and statistics were concerned.
A year after being named team MVP, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed four games with a lower body injury. Despite his challenges, Big Ben said that Smith-Schuster was a consummate team player throughout the 2019 season.
"I think you saw a guy that wasn't as productive as he wanted to be and as he was expected to be, but he was still able to go out there and be a leader for guys," Roethlisberger said on 102.5 WDVE. "Guys in that receiver room, guys were still looking up to him, still talking to him. He was out there giving it everything he had. It's not easy for guys to do, but he took a selfless mentally and attitude into last season, and I think it showed for guys like me that could really see it."
Smith-Schuster wasn't the only Pittsburgh receiver that impressed Roethlisberger during his season on the sideline.
"I think that we got to see some growth from guys. I think Diontae [Johnson] really showed kinda what he's capable of doing," Roethlisberger said. "I thought James Washington really took some big steps in terms of his conditioning. You kinda are able to see some of the small things when you're on the sideline that you wouldn't normally see when you're in the huddle or on the field.
"I saw James Washington on numerous occasions, on multiple times a game, run deep routes, full speed, looking for the ball, doesn't get it, is sprinting back to the huddle, and then runs another route. He spent last offseason really putting his conditioning above, I think, pretty much everything else. I think it showed last year and I think he's going to continue to do that and is going to continue to grow."
Roethlisberger is also excited about new Steelers tight end Eric Ebron, who two years ago caught 13 touchdowns while being named to his first Pro Bowl.
"I'm excited for what he could potentially bring to us opposite Vance [McDonald]," Roethlisberger said. "Kinda stretch the middle of the field. I'd like to do some stuff with him on the outside and maybe get some matchup opportunities that are favorable to us. I can't wait to get to work with him."
When it comes to the draft, Roethlisberger believes that the Steelers' front office will continue to add pieces to the offense. Pittsburgh hasn't drafted an offensive player with their first pick since guard David DeCastro was selected with the 24th overall pick back in 2012. Pittsburgh is expected to draft a receiver and running back, with Smith-Schuster and James Conner entering the final year of their rookie contracts.
"We've gone defense with our top picks for a long time, and it showed (last season)," he said. "Last year was so much fun to watch our defense and go up against them early in the year. They're special. They're going to continue to get better I think as they grow together. I'm excited about that defense, and we'll see what they decide to do as it comes to the draft."
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on offseason activites, Roethlisberger said that he continues to remain consitent as it relates to his training regiment. Big Ben's goal is to be back at full strength by the time the regular season is slated to begin.
"I'm doing everything that would [already] be dong right now," he said. "I'm still throwing three days a week, I'm working out five days a week, all that stuff. The only thing that could potentially be a hindrance if you will is getting live reps at the OTAs, the minicamps. Throwing to receivers on the move. A defenders on them, so you kinda have to throw it into a tight window. Some of those kinda things are the things that I'm gonna miss. Also, I've been doing this for a long time, so obviously I'm gonna rely on that when it's time."