Ben Roethlisberger is no longer in his prime. That was apparent before the Steelers' promising start to last season deteriorated into a disappointing finish.
But can he still play at a high level? It's a fair question.
Longtime teammate Cameron Heyward has come to his quarterback's defense throughout the offseason, citing shortcomings on both sides of the ball for the team's 2020 tailspin. On Tuesday, the Pro Bowl defensive lineman took further exception to the notion that Big Ben won't be good in 2021.
"I think we're just blowing it out of proportion," Heyward told reporters. "We went 11-0 to start the season. How many other quarterbacks did that? I think we can sit up here and talk about how we lost the game last year. We lost to the Cleveland Browns, OK, so be it. We fell off at the end. We still made the playoffs. But I'm not here to say my quarterback is not able to do it. I've seen this guy win Super Bowls on TV. I've seen him day in and day out compete, and you just get frustrated. I know Ben puts in work. I know how much he cares about this team."
Heyward and Roethlisberger were present for the first day of organized team activities. The latter's commitment, despite a few intimations in recent years about retiring, has never come into question. It's about how much he can produce on the field at age 39. After missing almost all of 2019 with a shoulder injury, Big Ben got off to a fast start last year. He threw 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions with a passer rating of 103.0 through the first nine games. Those numbers dipped to 11-6 and 83.2 over the next six contests. He was then picked off four times in the Steelers' wild-card loss to the Browns.
There were many culprits for Pittsburgh's plummet, including a fading defense and paltry running game. Heyward noted a week ago that the defensive players were "most excited" to have power back Najee Harris, believing the first-rounder will make life easier for them and Big Ben. The veteran lineman reiterated at OTAs that his QB has been inaccurately downgraded.
"When I hear the badmouthing about him being a non-great quarterback and that everybody is ready to elevate other quarterbacks, I'm like, 'what have they done?' This guy is a proven winner, but yet we're ready to discount him," Heyward said. "All I was saying was I think having a greater balance is going to make him that much more dangerous. I know our offensive line is in flux, but they're going to be better because they're learning a different system. We bring in another running back, our receivers are a year older, bring in another tight end. All these different things I think can help Ben, and I'm excited for him."
That all could make the Steelers exciting, too.