Wide receivers. Of course, I’m talking about wide receivers and not Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s taste in the ladies. As an aside, after spending a whole week listening to Sean Salisbury and Tony Kornheiser discuss Tom Brady’s main squeeze, Brazilian supermodel Giselle Budchen, while also bemoaning the fact that Tony Romo has reportedly kicked Yoko Simpson to the curb, I’m extremely glad our quarterback limits his off-field activities to LPGA scrubs and WB starlets. Anyway, this week the national football media latched on to the story of an apparent riff developing between Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers WR Hines Ward.
It all started shortly after the season-ending soul-crushing loss to the Jacksonville Jagoffs. Ben was asked what areas he felt the Black and Gold needed to address in the draft. He responded by saying, “I’m always going to ask for a tall receiver. That’s just me. Our receivers are unbelievable, but our tallest guy might be Hines. Or Santonio [Holmes]. Hines is going to say he’s 6 foot, but he’s 5-11.”
These comments made it through the grapevine to good ‘ol Hines. “I don’t hear Tom Brady or Peyton Manning asking for that,” Ward said. “To me, it’s a rare combination of receivers out there who are good and tall. We won a Super Bowl, we didn’t have a tall receiver then,” he added, eyes welling up with emotion. “To me, I have enough problems to worry about than what Ben wants — I can’t give him the contract,” Ward continued, referring to Roethlisberger’s upcoming contract extension talks. “He wants a tall receiver? Why did we draft Santonio?” asked Hines, lips quivering from the sting of Ben’s betrayal.
Look, I like Hines Ward. I didn’t see Lynn Swann play and only caught John Stallworth toward the tail end of his career. Swannie’s career was short and Stallworth benefited from always playing opposite other good receivers. Such as Louis Lipps, who was a Rookie of the Year, damn fine wide out, and made a very tasty cookie. All of them put up some great numbers but I’d have to say Hines is the best receiver in Steeler history. He’ll go over the middle. He can be a possession receiver although he’s fast enough to break off long gainers. His 18 yard/catch average was highest among any of the top 50 reception leaders in the NFL this season, which is doubly impressive considering how often he catches 5-8 yard dump offs in the flat. He’s an awesome blocker. He’s a former Super Bowl MVP. He’s a tremendous talent.
He’s also a bit of a head case. It all goes back to the year he was drafted. Mel Kiper and his fabulous head of hair had Hines projected as a first round pick. Unfortunately, he also played quarterback and running back at Georgia which confused some scouts as to where he should play or if he was polished enough in any one area. So he dropped, all the way to the third round. Oh, the horrors! Still, Ward never forgot this “slight” and has spent his career with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove everybody was wrong about him.
Sometimes this is a good thing. Ben still smarts from being picked behind Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning. Tom Brady never forgot he was a 6th round pick. But with Hines, it’s always been a bit of a problem. A couple seasons ago, he threatened to hold out of training camp because of perceived disrespect from the Steelers organization. Only a phone call from Bill Cowher managed to convince him to stop being a baby and show up for work.
Yes, Ben should know better than to be critical of his teammates. Especially teammates who performed well for him this season. He should also know better than say things about Hines, given the man is more thin-skinned than a woman with PMS. And yes, Hines has a point about ability trumping size in receivers. The Jaguars have two gargantuan wideouts but they can only be bothered to catch 1 out of every 4 passes thrown their way. I’d rather have a midget who catches everything than a 25%er.
That said, Ben is totally correct to want a larger receiver put on the offseason shopping list. One of the frustrating parts of the Steelers offense this season was not being able to score touchdowns when inside the 5. Part of this has to do with not having a big fatass running back. The other part is not having a big end zone target. We do have 6-5 Heath Miller and 6-7 Matt Spaeth at tight end and early in the year, they were both scoring touchdowns. When teams caught on and began to cover them is when the red zone problems started. Also, neither of them are particularly quick (not fast, big guys aren’t usually fast but they have to be quick enough to get separation) which limits their usefulness in the open field. How many 20, 25, 30 yard gainers did either have this year? The jump ball bomb is a weapon missing from our offense ever since Plaxico Burress left.
So Ben was right, although the way he went about it was wrong. It’s all water under the bridge now. Hopefully Ben will apologize and smooth things out with Hines and Hines will wipe away his tears and come back this year with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. Which, now that I think about it, might be an ingenious bit of reverse psychology on Ben’s part. Or dumb luck. Whatever works.
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