Steelers ready to move forward with Big Ben; mock draft madness
Ben Roethlisberger's punishment needs to include mandatory counseling
Tackle Bryan Bulaga's stock is all over the board as the NFL draft nears
Much more on mock drafts, arm length, Ryan Leaf and 10 Things I Think I Think
Thoughts on The New Draft, the inexact science of mock drafting, why I miss Paul Zimmerman so much at this time of year, the tackle who's all over draft boards ... but first, the only story of the week:
The Ben Roethlisberger saga, and what the Rooney family plans to do about it.
I spoke to Art Rooney II, the Steelers president and franchise caretaker since owner Dan Rooney is at work as Ambassador to Ireland, and wanted to get one thing straight: "My read of what you said in your news conference, and to the New York Times, is that you're moving forward with Ben as a Steeler.''
"That's a fair reading, yup,'' Rooney said.
So unless Roethlisberger screws up again -- unlikely because of how scared he is right now, I'm told -- he'll be the quarterback of the Steelers this year. That is after he's suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell for some period, which I now think has to be at least four games at the start of the season, for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
I feel confident this is going to be league discipline, not Steeler-imposed discipline, even though Rooney made it clear he'd rather the team punish Roethlisberger. The league handles hot-button discipline issues like this from 280 Park Avenue consistently, and I just don't think Goodell wants to cede authority to the team on such a hot-button issue. This also allows the league to rap Roethlisberger longer; the max sanction a team can mete out is four games. The league has no such limit.
On Sunday night, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported Goodell is expected to suspend Roethlisberger either Monday or Tuesday. I'd been told last week that the league would still be gathering information on the incident for several more days, but then the 572-page police investigation was released, a damning lot of evidence against Roethlisberger. Whether he's suspended this week or after the draft, there's little doubt Goodell will act swiftly on a Roethlisberger sanction once he feels he has all the pertinent information.
So Roethlisberger stays a Steeler. And the league, not the team, is likely to handle the punishment. Those are the two headlines here, but there's so much more. First, I'm not sure the Steelers giving Roethlisberger another chance is going to mollify Steeler fans. I think the anger of the fans is not going to be soothed very soon, and rightfully so. If a quarter of the accusations from that night in Georgia are true, he deserves the wrath he'll feel. There could be picketing in bucolic Latrobe this summer, at training camp. He'll get booed in his own stadium. He'll have to have cotton in his ears in every road stadium. He'll be a huge distraction to his own team. The Steelers are counting on time healing the wounds of the Steeler public. I'm not sure they're right about that. We'll see.
I know Steeler fans well. I married a Pittsburgh girl. The tenor of the fans I've spoken with goes something like this: I'll always love the Steelers, but I'll never cheer for that bum Roethlisberger again.
"I understand what's out there,'' Rooney said. "It's a difficult situation. I know our fans feel strongly about it. I'm hearing from them in large measure. I've gotten e-mails, been on some message boards and on Facebook. I've read the anger, and I understand it. Ben is embarrassed by it.''
But I'm also left thinking Roethlisberger's image might have been less sullied had he been charged with a crime. We've heard a fairly one-sided portrayal of events of the evening. An underage college girl and some friends are plied with alcohol, and Roethlisberger disappears with a totally intoxicated one, and the totally intoxicated one, who hit her head at one point, told police she remembers saying no to Roethlisberger's advances twice.
I'm not sure how reliable those statements should be, but it's likely the Roethlisberger side will try to let the story die and not refute anything. I believe the night probably happened close to the way the victim and her friends say it did, and that Roethlisberger is a lout. But in this job, I'm always uncomfortable hearing one side of a story, and the damning statements of the victim and her friends will likely be all we hear on this one. Maybe ever.
As for Roethlisberger, he's lucky the Steelers have a different morality standard for their star quarterback than for their Super Bowl MVP receiver. They could have traded Roethlisberger to Oakland, and if you think I'm kidding, you don't know Al Davis. But as angry as they obviously are with him, they're going to back him, assuming he turns his life around.
We could argue all day about the relative fairness of dumping a guy, Santonio Holmes, who is one strike from being banned for a year and entering the last year of a contract the Steelers probably were not going to extend, and keeping the marquee quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and a problem with how he treats women. The fact is, the quarterback's far more important to the team than the receiver, and he's going to get a little more rope. But there's no doubt he's reached the end of it with the Rooney family.
"When I met with Ben, he said he's going to be changing his life,'' Rooney said. Then he paused for two or three seconds.
"Words are the easy part,'' he said. "We have to make sure Ben puts himself on a path to do better. It's a tall order, but it's something he has to do.''
He has no choice if he wants to stay a Steeler. And if he wants to stay a free man.
One last point: However it happened, and finger-pointing aside, at least two women have come forward in the last nine months and accused Roethlisberger of taking advantage of them -- in graphic, sordid detail. That's why Goodell's punishment can't just be four, six or eight games. It has to include some mandatory counseling. If Roethlisberger's serious about changing his life, there's some evidence there that he needs to change how he treats women, and that should include figuring out why he keeps ending up in this spot.
Is Bryan Bulaga the next Robert Gallery?
Two Midwestern kids, two Iowa left tackles, two guys forecast to be high picks when they entered the draft, two short-armed guys (more about that later).
Gallery went number two overall, to Oakland, in 2004. He was a disappointment at left tackle, and eventually moved inside to guard, where he's been a good player. But not good enough to have merited the second pick in a draft, ahead of wideout Larry Fitzgerald and quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger, clear positions of need for the Raiders.
Bulaga had a sub-par season in 2009, missing three games due to a thyroid condition and not regaining top form until Iowa's bowl game. A couple of scouts told me they're not sure he's even a first-round talent after watching Michigan's Brandon Graham abuse him on tape last fall.
"They're pretty different in terms of profiles,'' their coach, Kirk Ferentz, the former NFL line coach, told me Friday. "Bryan's a third-year college player who didn't redshirt and came out early. He came here and started at left guard as a freshman; I've told lots of the scouts that in my years of coach, there're not many true freshmen who came in and played at a high level -- Mark Stepnoski and Bill Fralic at Pitt, and then Bryan would be in their class for how he played right away.
"Robert was a career tight end [in high school and his first year at Iowa] until we switched him to tackle midway through his second year here. He stayed five years. With Bryan, it's so hard to judge him if you look at last year's film, because he wasn't allowed to do any physical conditioning for the three weeks he was out, and when he came back, he obviously wasn't the same. Look at his '08 film. He dominated. And when he came back this year for our bowl game [against Georgia Tech], watch him when [first-round defensive end prospect] Derrick Morgan lined up against him. Bryan beat him.''
Ferentz won't say it, but those close to Gallery believe he was rushed into the full-time left tackle job at Oakland when he might have been better-served playing inside a year or two, then moved outside. Ferentz compares Bulaga to Jordan Gross, who has effectively split his career playing well on the left and right side at tackle for Carolina. At 6-foot-5, rock-solid and 316 pounds, Bulaga could start his career inside at guard, or at right tackle, then move to the left side when he get more comfortable with the speed of the pro game.
In the spy-versus-spy world of mock drafting, I've thought for a while that Bulaga was a natural to go to Kansas City at five. GM Scott Pioli is so close with Ferentz I thought at one point he might try to hire him as his head coach in Kansas City. But Ferentz told me he hasn't spoken with Pioli about Bulaga this offseason, and Pioli hasn't been to Iowa City since the fall. Hmmm. Another layer to consider about the landing spot of Bulaga. I think he'll be picked in the top 14; I doubt he'll get past Seattle's second pick of the first round.
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