Ben Roethlisberger doesn't plan to be a spectator when the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field to begin the 2020 season. Instead, Big Ben expects to be under center, as he and the Steelers are expecting him to make a full recovery following his September elbow surgery.
ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, who created a stir Monday morning after saying on "SportsCenter" that there is "some doubt" whether or not Roethlisberger will play football again, reported Monday evening that the Steelers are optimistic that Roethlisberger will recover from his surgery to reattach three tendons in his right elbow. Mortensen added that Big Ben is "tracking better" although he has still not been cleared to throw. He also stated that Rothlisberger wants and expects to play in 2020 and beyond.
Monday's report confirms what CBS NFL Insider Jason La Canforashortly after Roethlisberger underwent surgery two weeks into the regular season. La Canfora added that the team expects Big Ben -- who had never missed than four games in a season prior to this season -- to begin throwing by training camp.
While he has not done many interviews this season, Roethlisberger has spoken to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and 93.7 The Fan on the record on two occasions following his season-ending surgery. During both interviews, with the most recent one taking place in mid-November, Roethlisberger stated his desire to fulfill the final two years of his contract. He also hasn't ruled out playing behind his current contract, which is set to expire after the 2021 season, a month shy of his 40th birthday.
Roethlisberger also offered his hopeful timetable for his return.
"OTAs. Minicamp. Somewhere in there," said Roethlisberger, the Steelers' all-time leader in just about every statistical category for a quarterback. "Just taking it nice and slow, doctors' orders. It's all about what they say."
While the Steelers and Roethlisberger are expecting a successful recovery, Pittsburgh's 2019 team will try to extend its season at least another week by beating the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday. They will also need the Titans to lose on the road against a Houston team that has already clinched the AFC South Division. But while Texans' head coach Bill O'Brien stated Monday that the Texans will dress each of their regular starters for Sunday's game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, with the Ravens having already clinched the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs, for Sunday's game that includes quarterback Lamar Jackson, offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas, and defensive lineman Brandon Williams.
Beyond this season, the Steelers will likely spend at least a portion of their offseason trying to figure out their long-term plan at quarterback given Big Ben's age and current contract situation. While both quarterbacks had their moments, second year quarterback Mason Rudolph and undrafted rookie Devlin "Duck" Hodges did not do enough to state their cases this season as a possible successor to Roethlisberger. Through 15 games, the Steelers rank 31st in the NFL in passing and 26th in touchdown passes thrown. Pittsburgh's struggles at the quarterback position have greatly contributed to the Steelers' 26th-ranked third-down offense and their 32nd-ranked red zone offense.
The good news is that, assuming that Roethlisberger does make a full recovery, he will be complemented by an up and coming group of receivers that includes JuJu Smith-Schuster, second year wideout James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson. While Smith-Schuster has endured an injury-marred season, Washington has more than made up for last year's struggles, as he leads the Steelers this season with 735 yards while averaging 16.7 yards per catch. Johnson, the Week 14 AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, has caught a team-high 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns.
Big Ben will also be complemented by a Steelers' defense that has been one of the league's best since acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the same day Roethlisberger's season officially came to an end. This season, the Steelers' defense, led by Fitzpatrick, fellow Pro Bowlers Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, rookie ILB Devin Bush and veteran cornerback Joe Haden, is first in the NFL in sacks, second in forced turnovers, and fourth in scoring.
While their quarterback quandary held them back this season, a healthy Roethlisberger, along with the play of Pittsburgh's emergence defense, should give the Steelers enough momentum to compete with Baltimore for divisional -- and possible AFC -- supremacy during the end of Big Ben's run in Pittsburgh.