By Jeremy Hritz
Pittsburgh Steelers fans across the world are grateful for the last eight seasons of football that Ben Roethlisberger has made possible. From his unprecedented winning streak during his rookie season, to three Super Bowl starts, Big Ben is one of the primary reasons that the Steelers are always in the running for a Lombardi come playoff time.
There is no denying the connection between the body composition of athletes and their performance, but if there is one thing that does not get much attention when discussing Roethlisberger, as if it is taboo, it is his physical shape. A question that warrants some attention this offseason is this: is Big Ben physically fit, and how much does his conditioning impact his play?
During Roethlisberger’s first and second years in the league, his physical appearance was large, yet lean. Since that time however, there has been a noticeable change in his physical appearance that cannot be denied (do a quick Google image search and compare the differences if you don’t believe me). While the height and weight statistics on Ben have not changed since his rookie year (6’5, 241), over the years the observant spectator has almost surely noticed that Ben is carrying some excess pounds, which are not of the lean muscle variety. There is no question that Roethlisberger has shown up to training camp in acceptable shape over the years, but as the franchise quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, shouldn’t the expectation be greater?
Take into consideration for the moment Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, all of whom are considered to the be the upper-echelon-elite quarterbacks of the National Football League. While none of these three Super Bowl winners are over 6’4, nor are they stacked with muscle and striated like bodybuilders, all three of them can be considered physically fit and lean. Another thing to consider is that outside of a fluke ACL tear, Brady, Rodgers, and Brees are rarely hurt and forced to miss game time. Roethlisberger on the other hand seems to struggle weekly to overcome an injury, causing him to miss game time, impacting the effectiveness of his team. The offensive line issues of the Steelers are well documented and known, and are primarily the reason for the punishment that Ben takes, but would he be less fragile if his physical fitness were at a greater level? Beyond that, how much more escapable and mobile would a lean, fit Roethlisberger be to make more of his trademark explosive plays downfield?
Roethlisberger, who will turn 30 in a few weeks, more than ever needs to invest more in his health and conditioning. In a recent interview with Ed Bouchette, Roethlisberger pointed out that he “want[s] to come to camp lighter than I\'ve ever come, in better shape,” and that he has already began working out for the 2012 season. This is tremendous. If Roethlisberger does emerge from this offseason in his best ever shape, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact this will have on his performance, and whether he or not he can make it through the entire season without an injury. A lean and supremely conditioned Ben has nothing to do with being a GQ, pretty boy, beach body, but rather a stronger, quicker, and more durable version of himself. Regardless, as a captain of one of the greatest franchises in sports history, and as a $108 million dollar Super Bowl winning quarterback, Big Ben needs to look the part so that he can play the part and keep himself on the field.