By Barbara Harrison
A native of northern Ohio, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watched his hometown team eschew his obvious talents in favor of tight end Kellen Winslow back in 2004.
Has lightning struck again in Cleveland, with Eagles pheom rookie Carson Wentz serving as a weekly reminder that the Browns preferred a bundle of draft picks to a quarterback they believed would never graduate to above-average starter, much less the face of the franchise?
Emphasizing that the Browns needed a franchise quarterback “like the Earth needs our sun,” Around The NFL’s Marc Sessler openly wondered in April if the team was passing on the second coming of Roethlisberger.
That wonderment was shared by Roethlsiberger.
“I was really surprised,” Roethlisberger said in a conference call yesterday in advance of the Steelers-Eagles game Sunday at the Linc. “I thought I would be facing him two times a year in Cleveland.”
Roethlisberger expressed a similar sentiment minutes later, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I thought he was AFC North all the way.”
It’s no surprise that Roethlisberger is high on Wentz’s potential. The two share the same agent and worked out together in California this past offseason.
“He’s a heady player,” Roethlisberger said on the conference call. “He’s smart. Understands the game. Physically gifted, both with his legs and his arm. He can make all the throws.”
Much like the hulking Roethlisberger, Wentz is custom-made for the harsh AFC North elements, standing 6-foot-5, weighing 240 pounds and sporting a strong arm capable of cutting through the fiercest December winds.
Rather than pulling the trigger on Wentz, the new Browns regime hand-picked third-round signal-callerCody Kessler, the latest in a recent string of undersized quarterbacks straining to overcome physical limitations by the shores of Lake Erie.
“I understand where everybody’s coming from, but you’ve got to trust me on this one,” coach Hue Jackson said in response to post-draft skepticism surrounding the Kessler choice. “This is a guy that we feel very comfortable with, and we feel he’s going to have an opportunity to ascend.”
That opportunity has arisen much more quickly than Jackson planned, thanks to injuries that struck down the veteran duo of Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown in the first two weeks of the season.
Roethlisberger is 19-2 in 21 starts versus the Browns over 13 seasons. If Jackson doesn’t unearth or develop a quarterback solution to pull his organization out of a two-decade drought, every Wentz victory for the Birds might just cut as deep as the annual border-war losses to Pittsburgh.