There is always a fine line between tough and crazy, and few players toe that line like Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a possible make-or-break year, is the team risking too much by letting him play hurt?
Ankle issue magnified by no Mike Wallace or Rashard Mendenhall
If it were five years ago, the problem around Roethlisberger wouldn't have Steelers fans squirming with nerves. Back then the team could lean on their dominant defense to hold the fort until Big Ben could heal. With most of its biggest stars well over 30, though, that has made the latest injury to the quarterback a problem. Roethlisberger tweaked his ankle in a training camp practice, the same ankle he has hurt before. This only adds to a list of painful bumps and bruises piled up from last season. Worst of all, two of the key members on the Steelers offense are out. Running back Rashard Mendenhall still hasn't returned from an ACL injury last season, and Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace stand planted in a contract holdout that shows no signs of stopping. Without them, Roethlisberger may have to carry Pittsburgh behind an offensive line that was bad last season and could start two rookies when the regular season starts. If he goes down, it's hard to think Pittsburgh can survive in a very tough AFC North division.
Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch don't offer long-term help
Part of the reason experts and fans are iffy on Ben is who the team has behind him at quarterback. Veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch have starting experience but also some major red flags. Batch is 37 years old. Leftwich is 32 but can't escape his own injury history that features broken ankles, arms, and elbows. The truth is Pittsburgh has ignored the quarterback spot because Roethlisberger is so tough, and they've had a good enough team to win with veterans. Even so injuries pile up fast. Ben turned 30 in March and won't have his mobility for long if he keeps taking shots like he has. Leftwich and Batch may suffice for one more year, but the Steelers should know that the clock has started ticking on their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Names like Colt McCoy top the list of pending free agents that can fill in long-term or something else may come up.
Either way the Pittsburgh Steelers can't keep betting the high stakes on Ben Roethlisberger, not with Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall sidelined. Nor with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch behind him.