Hines Ward: “To get to where we want to go to, we know we’ve got to have Ben out there on the field.”

October 19, 2010 – 10:25 am by Michael Bean

Look out NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers were already looking plenty formidable without their franchise quarterback at the helm. Now, with Ben Roethlisberger back from his four game suspension, the Steelers definitely look like the team to beat. For now at least. Roethlisberger looked fairly sharp in his debut, a 28-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. His only real mistake was a first quarter interception. After that he settled down to throw for over 250 yards and 3 touchdowns. One guys who’s glad to have him back is veteran wide receiver Hines Ward, who had caught only 12 passes and 1 TD in the first four games of the year. Ward caught five passes and a TD on Sunday.

Ward joined The Michael Irvin Show on WQAM in Miami to talk about what it means to the team to have Big Ben back, what he thought of his performance on Sunday, his thoughts on Roethlisberger’s leadership qualities, how Roethlisberger has legitimately changed his behavior around his teammates and fans, and what he thinks about the Steelers’ upcoming opponent the Miami Dolphins, specifically Miami’s immensely talented wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

On having Big Ben back

“First, we had the Bye Week, so guys were really excited to have him back. Even though we were 3-1, and probably a 1:20 from being 4-0, to get to where we want to go to, we know we’ve got to have Ben out there on the field.  He’s a proven winner, he’s a hell of a competitor, and like I said, we want to get back to the Super Bowl and we know having Ben out there increases our chances of doing that. But throughout the week man, he was like a big kid. He was the first guy on the practice field, he didn’t want none of the other guys to get any of the reps, he wanted all the reps and stayed in there all week. So fortunately we had him for a Bye Week so he had a chance to get his timing down with all the guys, and then seeing him run out on the field and seeing the crowd respond the way they responded, I think that was big for him. At first he was a little nervous, a little rusty, trying to complete every ball and put that ball in between the numbers. I think he was just so amped up, and sometimes he just overthrew a ball, or put too much air under it or stuff like that. But once he got hit and knocked around, he became his old self, he settled down, and went on to pass for three touchdowns.”

On if he thinks that Roethlisberger has the qualities necessary to be a leader and quarterback of a team as storied as the Steelers:

“Yeah, he has all those qualities. Unfortunately he went through that mishap this offseason, and now you’ve got to regain that from the fellows. Coach Tomlin talks big about guys being held accountable. When you’ve been the quarterback of a franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’ve got to be held accountable. So I think he’s got to reestablish that connection with his teammates, with this organization, and he’s doing a wonderful job of that so far. So our job as a teammate, as a friend, as a brother, is to try to make his job and his transition as easy as possible. And not just burdening him and making him the black sheep, you know? We’ve got to help him become a better person, and a better teammate as a whole. That’s one thing – we’ve got a close-knit group of guys on our team that welcomes him in, like I said, we’ve asked and invited him all over the place and he’s showing up and going out of his way to become a better teammate as far as that point. But there’s no question that the quarterback position is automatically considered the leader. Regardless, I think the media hyped up him losing his captain job and things like that. I don’t really think as a player at the time, he just wasn’t going to be there, it’s just hard to vote for a player that’s not going to be there with the team, participating with the team the first four games. But having him back, he’s still our captain and our leader, and having him back in that huddle – being a veteran wide receiver – when he stepped back in that huddle, he took precedent. You can see it in his eyes saying we’re going to go out here and get the job done. Whereas earlier in the first couple of games, the first four games, guys were kind of star-struck, overwhelmed, and stuff like that trying not to make mistakes. But having his presence in the huddle, he makes the other ten guys around him go out and play hard.”

On just how unavailable Roethlisberger was to his fans and teammates before the incident and suspension occurred:

“Yeah, I mean when you’re the quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl champion, your time is very limited and sometimes you tend to forget where you came from. And like he’s said, sometimes he’d get caught up in that Big Ben atmosphere where everybody’s loving you, and you have nothing but ‘yes people’ around you, and there wasn’t enough people around you keeping it real with you.  I think by him humbling himself and missing the first four games and not being out there because of some off field action, it really made him more hungry to come back. And really you get a greater appreciation of the game, and I think that’s what you’re seeing now with Ben. We love everything about it and don’t want him to do anything to jeopardize not only himself and his family’s name, but as well as his organization and his teammates. So it’s great to come back, it showed a lot of character of the players on our team to go 3-1 without him, but it’s even greater to see him back and have a greater appreciation of the game that he’s missed for the first four games of this year. And now he understand what it means and what it takes to go out and be a professional athlete. It’s just great having him back, because you can see the transformation of Big Ben to the Ben that’s coming into it, and the humble Ben.”

On what it meant to the team to go 3-1 without Roethlisberger:

“It’s not that we don’t need Ben, of course we need Ben. But like I said, I think the guys who stepped in – a young Dennis Dixon, a veteran Charlie Batch – just doing the job that they’re supposed to do. Manage the game, not turn the ball over, and give the skill-players on our team a chance to win ballgames, and leave it up to our defense. Defense always wins championships that’s what they say. And we relied heavily on our defense the first four games, and they came up big for us. So, for us, there’s no question we missed having him out there for us, but the season’s not over. We can’t go out and forfeit the first four games, we’ve got some prideful guys in our locker room that are going to go out and compete hard and do whatever it takes to win games. But there’s no question, we’re a better ball club with Ben out on the field. No disrespect to Charlie and Dennis – those guys came in and did a phenomenal job, but one thing about it, like I said, when he steps in that huddle, you just have that sense he makes the other ten guys believe we’re going to go out and dominate this game.”

On his thoughts on Miami’s talented No. 1 wide receiver, Brandon Marshall:

“Oh man, just look at him. He’s 6’4″, he’s a beast. He’s one of those guys who can stretch the field, be a possession guy, be a run-after-the-catch guy, he can block as well. I wish God blessed me with his ability [laughing]. I just try to do all I can. But I just like him, he’s just a phenomenal wide receiver, he can go up and catch it. But when you’re getting 20 opportunities a game, it’s not hard to put up the stats that he’s doing. So for us, hopefully we can contain him. You can’t really stop him, but hopefully he doesn’t catch, you know, the big plays in certain situational football, and we can just keep him in front of us, don’t let him catch the bombs over our heads. But every time we played him when he was with Denver, he was always getting like 10 to 12 catches, but he’s never really made that big play in situational football. If we can contain that, I think we’ll be fine.”

Listen here to Ward on the Michael Irvin Show on WQAM in Miami

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