Steelers

Roethlisberger: ‘We’re still the Pittsburgh Steelers’

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gives a thumbs up during OTAs at the Rooney Complex – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Joe Haden thinks the Steelers are underdogs in 2019. The oddsmakers agree, unanimously picking the Browns to finish first in the AFC North this season.

Ben Roethlisberger chuckles at that notion.

I mean, Roethlisberger didn't outright say he disagreed with Haden or the bookies, but just ... listen for yourself when I brought up the topic with him Tuesday at the Rooney Complex during Day 1 of Steelers minicamp:

"We're still the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Roethlisberger talked for 20-ish seconds more, but that's all you need. He said it all with those five words. His belief in the Steelers runs deep, and he's not ready to buy that they've been passed up by the Browns or anyone else.

Roethlisberger was quick to mention the "talent that we have in this room" and in taking a glance around the place, it's easy to see why he's excited to captain the ship. There's JuJu Smith-Schuster, the team's most productive receiver last season, who appears ready to ascend to a true No. 1, bonafide star role within the Steelers offense.

Behind Smith-Schuster at receiver, there's James WashingtonDonte Moncrief (who already caught Roethlisberger's eye), slot jitterbugs Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers as well as wild card Diontae Johnson, a rookie third-round pick out of Toledo whose skill set lines up eerily well with that of the departed Antonio Brown.

Factor in tight end Vance McDonald and the three-headed beast at running back in James ConnerJaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, and it's easy to see why Roethlisberger remains so positive.

"If everyone puts forth the effort that we all think we can with the talent that we have in this room, we feel pretty confident that we can be pretty good," Roethlisberger said.

HUNTER'S VIEW 

I dig Roethlisberger's response here. It shows confidence and swagger, an uncharacteristically powerful delivery from Roethlisberger — slight smirk and all. He sees the opportunity at hand, and he feels ready to seize it.

I also agree with the comment's contents. The Browns are stacked on paper. They have one heck of a Madden roster — no doubt about that. But they also have an inexperienced head coach, a potential clash of strong personalities with Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. and an unproven track record of success in general. How will the team react to being picked to lead the pack? How will they deal with the media pressure that comes with being the hottest kids in town?

There are so many variables at play that crowning them champions of the AFC North feels hasty to me. We remember how the Eagles "Dream Team" turned out.

The Steelers, meanwhile, lost massive talents in Brown and Le'Veon Bell, but Conner matched Bell's production last season before going down with an injury, and the Steelers have only gotten better at running back in adding Snell and getting an improved, slimmer Samuels for 2019. Replacing Brown will be trickier, and they certainly won't do it with one player, but Moncrief appears ready to smash his career bests with Roethlisberger slinging him the ball, and it's weapons galore behind him on the depth chart. With a more balanced and spread attack, the loss of Brown can be mitigated.

On the defensive side, the team tied for first in sacks last season and returns its defensive line and edge rushers while improving its inside linebackers with Devin Bush and Mark Barron joining Vince WilliamsSteven Nelson is the best outside cornerback opposite Haden the team has had since Haden arrived in 2017. Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis appear ready to take the next step as safeties.

All things considered, I side with Roethlisberger on this one.

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