Ben Roethlisberger received some good news recently after visiting with his doctors in California. Roethlisberger, who underwent season-ending elbow surgery just two weeks into the 2019 season, was cleared to begin throwing over the weekend for the first time since sustaining the injury.
“It was a good report,” Roethlisberger told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I got to bypass the tennis ball throwing for a month and go right to the football. Still going to be about two and a half-three months until I get total clearance from the doctor but we are doing good!
“It felt amazing to throw,” Roethlisberger continued. “It was hard to hold the smile in. (I have) two more throwing sessions while I’m out here in California and then headed back to the ‘Burgh.”
Fans and teammates celebrated on social media upon seeing a video of Big Ben throwing a football over the weekend. The video and Roethlisberger’s positive meeting with his doctors confirm the Steelers‘ belief that Big Ben will be ready when Pittsburgh begins offseason workouts in May. Mike Tomlin, during a recent appearance on “First Take,” made it clear that he expects Roethlisberger to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback when the team begins the 2020 regular season.
“This guy is the ultimate competitor,” Tomlin said of Roethlisberger. “He’s dropped the gauntlet down. He made the statement that he’s coming back, and I look forward to watching him answer that challenge.”
Roethlisberger, who will celebrate his 38th birthday on March. 2, is just two years removed from his record-setting 2018 season that saw him lead the NFL with 5,129 passing yards. Pittsburgh’s offense also led the NFL in red zone efficiency that season while scoring a franchise record 53 touchdowns.
With Roethlisberger sidelined last season, Pittsburgh’s offense struggled to keep pace with its emerging defense, a unit that boasted four Pro Bowl players in DE Cam Heyward, OLB T.J. Watt, cornerback Joe Haden, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. While the Steelers’ defense finished fifth in the NFL in scoring, tied for first in sacks, and third in fewest passing yards allowed, Pittsburgh’s offense finished just 27th in scoring, 31st in passing and 29th in rushing. Pittsburgh’s offense was also last in the NFL in red zone efficiency a year after being tops in the NFL in that department.
The Steelers suffered other significant injuries throughout the course of the 2019 season, losing running back James Conner for six games and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for four games. They also lost DE Stephon Tuitt for the year just six games into the season. Despite the injuries and lack of production on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers went 7-1 after a 1-4 start to get themselves inside the AFC playoff race with three games remaining in the regular season. Pittsburgh’s improbable run fell short, however, as the Steelers dropped their final three games to finish with an 8-8 record.
Pittsburgh’s quarterback room will look slightly different in 2020, as the Steelers hired Matt Canada, a longtime college assistant that recently served as Maryland’s offensive coordinator/interim head coach in 2018, to be the team’s new quarterbacks coach. And while the Steelers seem comfortable with Mason Rudolph serving as Big Ben’s primary backup in 2020, the Steelers will likely bring in competition to compete with Devlin Hodges to be the team’s No. 3 quarterback.
The Steelers will also look to add to their skill positions, as Pittsburgh is expected to sign a veteran receiver and possibly another running back in free agency. The Steelers may decide to use their draft first pick — the 50th overall pick — on a tight end. Two possible options for the Steelers are Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins and Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney. Hopkins, the 48th-best player in CBS Sports’ 2020 prospect rankings, caught 61 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Pinkney, the 56th-ranked player on CBS’ prospect rankings, caught 114 passes and 14 touchdowns during his time with the Commodores.