Ben Roethlisberger entered his first training camp in 2004 as the third-string quarterback.
By the season opener, the No. 11 overall pick was the backup.
By Week 3, he was the starter.
By the end of the regular season, he was undefeated as the starter.
So Roethlisberger carries the weight of his own history when he talks about the challenges facing a rookie quarterback. And he also speaks with authority about the Bears’ own rookie who moved from third string to backup — Roethlisberger trained with Mitch Trubisky in California before this year’s draft.
“I thought he was a tremendous athlete,” Roethlisberger, who shares an agent with his fellow Ohioan, said via phone Wednesday. “I thought he could throw the ball. When he got out of the pocket, he could make throws on the run, improvise.
“I got to watch some of his college tape. I was really impressed with the athleticism. The ease of throwing the ball — it just looked easy to him when he was on the run, when it wasn’t supposed to be super-easy.”
Trubisky, of course, won’t go the Roethlisberger route and make his first NFL start in Week 3 against the Steelers. He wants to — “Just like every other backup, he wants to play,” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said — but the team is sticking with Mike Glennon as its starter for now. The Bears wouldn’t even play Trubisky in garbage time of their 29-7 loss to the Buccaneers. Coach John Fox said it was because Glennon, who threw 11 passes in 2015 and 2016 combined, needs all the snaps he can get.
Roethlisberger remembers what it was like to try to stay patient.
“You want to get out there, but you also understand that this is a different ballgame than college,” he said. “Of course, you want to play. But you don’t want to just get thrown in not ready to go. You’re OK being patient trying to learn the offense because you don’t want to get out there and look bad or let your teammates down.”
Playing as a rookie wasn’t the plan, but starter Tommy Maddox hurt his elbow in Week 2. Roethlisberger simply turned in one of the great rookie seasons of all time; the Steelers won their last 13 games and finished 15-1.
“Whether he was thrown in early or not, there’s no right or wrong answer there,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Oftentimes, it has nothing to do with them, but it has a lot to do with what’s going on around them. I know the Steelers’ intentions were to not play him, but based on the injury, he was forced to play, and he performed well. And they did.
“And the rest is history.”
Roethlisberger credited his defense, a strong running game and veteran teammates for the Steelers’ success in 2004.
The Bears lack any of the above. Through two weeks, they rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed and rushing yards gained. They don’t have a go-to receiver, and one tight end has more than two catches.
If the Bears are waiting for the perfect time to start Trubisky, this ain’t it. Whenever Trubisky makes his debut, he’ll find the game fast and complicated, the way Roethlisberger did.
“When a defense sees a young guy that hasn’t played the game, they like to throw different looks at him,” Roethlisberger said. ‘‘They’re not going to line up in a 4-3 or a 3-4 base defense; they’re going to throw different looks at you, different blitzes to try to confuse you. The confusion between the ears part is really one of the biggest keys to it.”
The only way to figure it out, he said, is through experience. That doesn’t end when Year 2 begins — an important lesson for Bears fans to remember long after Trubisky makes his first career start.
“That’s why I’m always slow to send too much praise or anoint the next great quarterback after Year 1,” Roethlisberger said. “I think people in the media and the ‘professionals’ in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great.
“Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years. After defenses understand what you’re bringing, you’re not a surprise anymore. It takes a few years until you can really get that title of being great or even good because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”
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