Whisenhunt: Crash, surgery led to rough '06 for Big Ben

Ken Whisenhunt, the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and former offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, told reporters Saturday he believes Ben Roethlisberger's struggles last season were at least partly due to his offseason troubles.

Ben Roethlisberger Roethlisberger

"I just saw physically in the pocket there were some things you could just sense he wasn't as confident [about] as he was the year before," said Whisenhunt, at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "A lot of that I think was because of recovering from the injuries and having some doubts of whether he was 100 percent healthy or not."
Roethlisberger had motorcycle crash on June 12 as well an appendectomy on Sept. 3 that caused him to miss the season opener.

"When we started the season, even in training camp, it didn't seem like it would have an effect," Whisenhunt said. "But, at the end, and when you look at it again, I am convinced it did. Not because of his health, he is a tough kid and he did a good job coming back and being prepared. But from the standpoint of being in the pocket and facing the rush, certainly there was some trauma with him that maybe we all underestimated, and I think it took him longer to get over that than we all thought."

Roethlisberger never blamed his near-fatal June motorcycle crash for his falloff in play, but he never looked as strong or as confident last season as he was while going 27-4 in 2004 and 2005.

In 2006, the Steelers quarterback had his lowest completion percentage (59.7) and quarterback rating (75.4) in his three-year career. He also had more interceptions (23) last season than he had in his first two years combined (20).

Whisenhunt admitted that looking back to the start of the season, Roethlisberger should have sat at least one more game before coming back. But Whisenhunt also said that given the information the coaches had to work from, the staff made the best decision possible. He had nothing critical to say about the decision to let Roethlisberger back on the field.

And don't expect Roethlisberger to be down for long, says Whisenhunt.

"I see him as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He's an outstanding young player. I think as he gets more experience he'll see things better and have opportunities to make more plays in the pocket, but he'll still have the element of being able to move outside the pocket."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.