The Steelers wasted two roster spots on quarterbacks in 2013 that could have been used elsewhere.
Veteran Bruce Gradkowski and rookie Landry Jones did not appear in a game. They only took snaps in practices, and Jones did not get many of those.
Ben Roethlisberger not only played in every game for only the second time in his 10-year career, but he also played every snap for the first time (though not all at quarterback because they used the wildcat on occasion).
So, having turned 32 March 2, it's probably time for Steelers fans to stop fretting about his health. He's fine. His knees are fine, his head is clear and his arm is as good as ever.
Operating behind what often was a makeshift line, Roethlisberger had another strong season. His 4,346 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes were second most in team history -- records he owns. He set team records with 375 completions on 584 attempts. He increased his team record to 34,105 career yards.
He still was sacked too often, but of those 42 sacks, only seven came in the final seven games. That reflected better play by his line, more no-huddle offense and quicker decisions by him, which is what Todd Haley and the Steelers have been emphasizing.
With a line that should be better, more stable and -- they all hope -- healthier in 2014, with a legitimate threat at halfback in Le'Veon Bell to run and catch, and Heath Miller ready to go from day one, only one thing could prevent Roethlisberger from an even better season this year -- his receiving corps.
After Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, who are they? Emmanuel Sanders won't be back, and while they'd like to re-sign Jerricho Cotchery, they have not yet done so. Marcus Wheaton caught six passes as a rookie, all in two games.
"What we have to do is surround him with the best talent," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "And he has to play to that level that he's capable of playing to if we do get that talent around him. We all have to come together to try to win the Super Bowl. But we understand that there are only so many snaps left with a franchise quarterback."
That does not mean the Steelers are preparing for life without Roethlisberger. They did not draft Jones in the fourth round to replace him, they merely wanted to have a younger quarterback in the mix. Roethlisberger went from being the youngest quarterback on their roster in 2012 (behind Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich), to the oldest in 2013.
Roethlisberger could easily play another five years. There is no way for the Steelers to prepare for that now. They have Gradkowski, 31, as a veteran, proven backup, and who knows what they have in Jones, who was less than impressive in his rookie preseason.
The Steelers want to ride Roethlisberger as far and as long as he will take them.
"In regards to Ben and his window closing, I think first of all we're very fortunate to have a franchise quarterback because the majority of the teams in this league can't say that and we have one," Colbert said. "There is nobody we'd rather have than Ben. That's a big part of where we are. As an organization we have to, and we realize that he doesn't have 10 years left. We all would acknowledge that. Does he have two, three or five? I don't know. Hopefully he stays healthy and we get the maximum amount of years out of him."
Steelers president Art Rooney II made the bold move of forcing out Bruce Arians as Roethlisberger's favorite offensive coordinator after the 2011 season. Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley to replace him, and after some rough times in 2012, Haley and Roethlisberger seem to have found a good working relationship.
Haley even gave Roethlisberger something he could not get from Arians, more snaps in the no-huddle in the second half of the 2013 season. Roethlisberger, calling his own plays in the no-huddle, operated it more efficiently and that is when the sacks and interceptions decreased and the victories piled up.
It stands to reason Haley will permit Roethlisberger to run the no-huddle even more at the start of the 2014 season, and the quarterback has said as much.
"I think it's come a long way," he said on his weekly radio spot on 93.7 The Fan at the end of the season. "I think it's evolved for the better.''
So too has Roethlisberger's growth internally, according to Tomlin.
"He did a great job of it this year, obviously, and not only in terms of his input but his leadership. We've got a bunch of young guys. I really thought he answered the bell for us in a big way."
Because of Ben Roethlisberger, the position of strength among all others on the Steelers is quarterback. It also remains by far the leading reason they will enter another season with the idea they can compete for a playoff spot, and another Super Bowl.
THE PAST DECADE
A look at the Steelers' success and failure at the position since 2004:
219/122/386: Career touchdown passes, interceptions and sacks taken by Ben Roethlisberger in 143 games.
212/210/307: Career touchdown passes, interceptions and sacks taken by Terry Bradshaw (168 games)
DRAFT: Not since a coin flip in 1970 gave them the rights to draft Terry Bradshaw has such a pick so greatly affected the fortunes of this football team. The selection of Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 ultimately brought the team its coveted one-for-the-thumb in 2005, another in 2008, and nearly a seventh Super Bowl ring in 2010. He holds every significant team passing record and is under contract through the 2015 season.
Last year, the Steelers selected Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round to be a backup to Roethlisberger. For years prior, Homestead's Charlie Batch was like the Rasputin of backup quarterbacks, making draft picks like Omar Jacobs and Dennis Dixon expendable as potential No. 2 men.
FREE AGENCY: The Steelers signed another home-grown quarterback as a backup last year: Seton LaSalle's NFL journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. Byron Leftwich also had two stints with Pittsburgh, the first earned him a Super Bowl ring in 2008.
POSITION AT A GLANCE
Coach: RANDY FICHTNER
Strengths: The Steelers have one of the league's elite quarterbacks who, at 32, is in his prime and coming off a record-breaking season in which, for the first time, he played every snap.
Weakness: Although injury-free in 2013, Roethlisberger needs to get hit less often. He still moves well, but is no longer much of a threat to run as he was in his youth. No. 3 QB is an unknown quantity.
Needs: A tall wide receiver and better protection from the offensive line.
Overview: Quarterback remains their strongest position and the reason they were able to stay in playoff contention the past two years as other areas declined. More use of the no-huddle is expected to take advantage of Roethlisberger's strengths.
NFL Draft Order (First Round)
1. Houston Texans
2. Washington Redskins
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Cleveland Browns
5. Oakland Raiders
6. Atlanta Falcons
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Detroit Lions
11. Tennessee Titans
12. New York Giants
13. St. Louis Rams
14. Chicago Bears
16. Dallas Cowboys
17. Baltimore Ravens
18. New York Jets
19. Miami Dolphins
20. Arizona Cardinals
21. Green Bay Packers
22. Philadelphia Eagles
23. Kansas City Chiefs
24. Cincinnati Bengals
25. San Diego Chargers
26. Indianapolis Colts
27. New Orleans Saints
28. Carolina Panthers
29. New England Patriots
30. San Francisco 49ers
31. Denver Broncos
32. Seattle Seahawks
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