While watching the NFL Draft three weeks ago, Ben Roethlisberger was no different from any of the myriad of Steelers fans who were tuning in
As the first few rounds played out over Thursday and Friday, and the Steelers still did not draft a tall, difference-making type of receiver, Roethlisberger wondered what was up.
There was considerable pre-draft media speculation that the Steelers would take a big receiver early on, yet their first three picks were an inside linebacker (Ryan Shazier), a defensive end (Stephen Tuitt) and a kick returner-running back-occasional wide receiver (Dri Archer).
Just like any franchise quarterback, Roethlisberger would have welcomed a big receiver early in the draft.
“For me it was just I got caught up in doing what I always say not to do, and that’s listen to the media,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers finally did take a tall receiver in the fourth round, or two rounds later than Clemson’s talented but unpolished Martavis Bryant was projected to go. It’s still far too early to tell if Bryant can contribute right away – unlike receivers such as his former Clemson teammate, Sammy Watkins (Bills); Mike Evans (Buccaneers) and Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers), who are expected to be big-play producers starting this season
The Steelers did give Roethlisberger a couple of new targets in Bryant and Archer, just not as early as he might have expected.
“They obviously have their agendas, the things they want, and they got two guys that they felt can help this team — and that’s what matters to me,” Roethlisberger said. “If we have guys who can help this team and help us win championships, that’s first and foremost.”
Winning championships, of course, is almost always Topic No. 1 in any discussion with Roethlisberger. Now that he’s 32, and he’s on the back nine of his career rather than the front nine, being able to contend every year is very important to him. With the emphasis on “every year.”
Roethlisberger wants his legacy to be that he was one of the great winners of all-time among quarterbacks – he already owns two Super Bowl rings, and just missed out on another – and sitting out the playoffs the last two seasons was a major disappointment to him.
That’s why Roethlisberger doesn’t care at all what round a player was drafted in, as long as that player can come in and make a difference – such as Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2010, has done.
“There are people who do 400 mock drafts, so you never know anything (in advance of the draft),” Roethlisberger said. “All I said all along was whatever helps us win a championship.”
Some more from the first week of the Steelers’ offseason practices:
— New safety Mike Mitchell was clearly excited about his first week of formal workouts. He’s with his third team in as many seasons, following four seasons in Oakland and one season in Carolina, and he’s working in his fifth different defensive system in six NFL seasons.
As a result, he took pride in not missing any assignments during his first three Steelers practices.
“It’s been an easy transition. I think as guys see me make more plays, I’ll grow and they’ll respect me. As I continue to make plays, people will believe in me more,” Mitchell said
Mitchell also appears to be assimilating himself well into a locker room that has undergone quite an overhaul over the last couple of seasons; eight of the Steelers’ 11 projected defensive starters weren’t in the lineup only two seasons ago in 2012. The only projected holdovers are Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and Ike Taylor – and there’s a chance Taylor won’t start.
“In Oakland, I felt like I played in three different teams in four years because we were always changing head coaches,” Mitchell said. “Learning a new scheme is nothing too different for me, I’ve handled it well just because I work hard and guys like my personality, I’m a likeable guy.”
How about that? Only one week into spring practice, and the Steelers already have a candidate for Mr. Congeniality
— Mitchell made an interesting observation about backup safety Robert Golden, a former undrafted free agent who played mostly on special teams last season. (And played well enough there that Pro Football Focus rated Golden as the NFL’s second-best special teams defender last season.)
“He’s probably got the smoothest back pedal in the league for a safety,” Mitchell said.
As for the entire secondary group, Mitchell said, “(They’re) good guys to be around every day, they’re pushing every day, we’re all pushing, nothing’s guaranteed. We all have to come out here and earn our spots and earn our living. We’re all pushing each other.”
And Troy Polamalu isn’t even in camp yet.
— The Steelers waived guard Nik Embernate after he failed his physical, according to the NFL transactions list. Embernate was an undrafted free agent a year ago who had an excellent change of making the team until he badly tore up a knee during training camp. He spent the entire season on the injury list and rehabilitating in Pittsburgh. According to the team, an injury settlement wasn’t required because Embernate spent all of last season with the Steelers.
— Don’t look for this to happen in Pittsburgh: the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars both opened spring practices open to the public. The Packers had a full house at their practice facility for one practice this week, and they’ll have another open practice each of the next two weeks. The Jaguars are having one open practice as well.