This year’s NFL off-season has already been a busy one for both Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it may have been just a bit busier 17 years ago – when it all started for #7 and the Black & Gold.

“When you have a franchise quarterback, it increases your chances of winning a championship. To me, it’s that simple. If you have a great one, you’re fortunate because not everybody does. We’re fortunate. The franchise guys are so scarce in the draft. Most veteran guys don’t become available. You never want to pick high enough to get one, but if you have the chance you should take one.” — Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert on finding his franchise guy in 2004.

We’re taking a look back at the 2004 NFL Combine, when Mr. Colbert found his “franchise guy” –

“It’s remarkable how far he has come in such a short time. Until his senior year in high school, he was a receiver. Yet, he was talented enough to take the Mid-American Conference by storm. That might not seem like a ringing endorsement on the surface, but remember that the last two MAC quarterbacks to do that were Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, both of whom appear to have bright NFL futures. Roethlisberger, who declared himself eligible for the NFL draft after his junior year, has a good pro arm, is more athletic than Eli Manning and Philip Rivers and sees the field well. Scouts generally believe he has the highest upside of this year’s QB crop, but also represents the greatest risk because of his limited experience.” — The late Joe Stein, NFL Draft expert for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

From Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports, February 19, 2004:

For Roethlisberger, Super Bowl week was an eye-opener. He went to parties. He met current and former NFL stars. He visited radio row. ESPN followed him with a camera for a segment on Outside the Lines.

“It’s amazing and overwhelming,” Roethlisberger said of the nonstop activity during Super Bowl week. “I met JB (Fox’s James Brown), Howie Long, Coach Denny Green and Emmitt Smith. Those are guys I grew up watching.”

Roethlisberger’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, brought Roethlisberger to Houston for two reasons. One, he wanted the future NFL quarterback to experience the Super Bowl week before he became a pro, before he started cashing big paychecks and before the experience became second nature. He wanted Roethlisberger to see it from outside the circle, before he was in the circle. There is a difference.

Two, he wanted to get Roethlisberger’s name out there and allow him to become more familiar, more relaxed with media interviews. The other quarterback expected to be taken in the top five, Eli Manning, doesn’t need the exposure. Manning is a brand name.

The inquiry at the top of everyone’s list?

“Ben, where do you think you’ll be drafted?”

It’s a question he can’t answer. He knows where he wants to be drafted.

The 6-5, 245-pounder possesses the qualities teams want in a quarterback: size, arm strength, accuracy, some mobility, smarts.

Roethlisberger and Manning are at the six-day NFL combine in Indianapolis, where prospects show off their physical and mental skills. It also gives teams a chance to interview and get to know the players.

It might determine where Roethlisberger and Manning go in the draft.

San Diego, Oakland and Arizona pick 1-2-3 in the draft. All could use a quarterback. The Chargers aren’t sold on Drew Brees. Rich Gannon is at the end of the road. Arizona released Jeff Blake, and no one is sure Josh McCown is the answer.

“This is all really hard to believe,” Roethlisberger said. “April 24 will be a dream come true.”

The article is still available online and can be read here.

The Scouting Reports –

From James Alder, NFL Draft expert at

Positives –

Ben Roethlisberger has everything you look for in a franchise quarterback. He’s got the big arm, but he also has excellent accuracy (69.1%) and nice touch. He is a pure pocket passer with excellent size and he moves around in the pocket well. He also has great escapability, often making the first defender miss. He also throws with incredible accuracy on the run… especially for a player his size.

Negatives –

There’s not much to dislike about Roethlisberger’s game. The only knock on him is that he played in the MAC, but with guys like Pennington and Leftwich coming out of the conference in recent years, I doubt his draft status will be adversely affected.

(Mr. Alder’s website is no longer available)

“People can look at Ben and say, ‘OK, wait a minute. He was a junior, and he was ready. But two things: He was a redshirt junior, so he had been in school for four years, and second, he wasn’t ready to do what he did. And that sounds wrong, because he had a great rookie year. But we never felt he was going to be ready that soon. Tommy Maddox was still coming off a pretty good year for us, and then he gets hurt in Week 2. But we drafted Ben with the thought that he would eventually replace Tommy. We didn’t anticipate him playing that early, and we certainly never thought he’d play that well that early.” — Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, from an interview with Don Banks, for his column on the NFL Combine at Sports Illustrated (which is no longer available).

From Sports Illustrated‘s NFL Draft experts:

Positives –

Big-armed pocket passer with the ability to grow into a franchise quarterback. Sets up to deliver the ball with solid footwork, stands strong in the pocket and smart. Sells the ball fakes, scans the field and consistently finds the open pass-catcher.

Senses the rush yet buys as much time as possible, waiting for the last second before releasing the ball.

Rarely panics, in complete control of the offense and a true leader behind center. Natural looking off the safety, throws with a fluid over delivery and possesses a big arm. Drives deep passes downfield, puts zip on the intermediate routes as well as velocity on all his throws.

Throws tight spirals and beautifully arches deep throws. Leads receivers over the middle and very accurate. Gets outside tackle and accurate passing on the move. Does not make poor decisions and always working to make positive plays.

Negatives –

A pocket passer with marginal mobility and cannot escape the rush. Must improve his downfield accuracy as well as the placement of the outs. Majority of snaps are taken out of the shotgun.

(The article is no longer available)

“In 2004, Big Ben entered the draft as a junior and did not have the benefit of postseason All Star Games. His draft grade was heavily reliant on the combine and he did not perform well. He was inaccurate with his passes throughout his workout and as a result became the third quarterback chosen in the ’04 draft.” — Sports Illustrated, “Classic NFL Combine Stories” posted February 20, 2009.

And you don’t want to miss Len Pasquarelli’s thoughts on the three top QB’s in his column for ESPN about the 2004 NFL Combine:

Of the three likely first-rounders — Roethlisberger, Eli Manning of Mississippi and North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers (one of the fastest-rising players at any position) — all are pretty much classic pocket passers.

Now that college passing games have become increasing sophisticated, and universities are producing passers infinitely more polished, teams are trying too hard to uncover a mobile quarterback.

If the current pool of draft-viable quarterbacks is any indication, the scouts and coaches will have to keep looking because there is an undeniable back-to-the-future reality that is taking hold at the position.

Of the consensus top-10 quarterbacks here, six stand 6-feet-4 or taller and six weighed in at 220 pounds or more. Roethlisberger was a whopping 249, tonnage that would once have been considered more appropriate for a linebacker, when he weighed in earlier this week.

According to Roethlisberger, no one blinked when he stepped onto the scale, and his weight isn’t significantly more than what he played at during the ’03 season. His natural size affords him, instead, the kind of presence and pocket stature, and, it is hoped, the durability most franchises covet.

You can read it all here!

Hope you enjoyed this look-back!