Steelers ready to give youth its chance

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger isn’t quite sure when or how it happened.

All the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback knows is he looked up in a meeting one day recently and realized he was the oldest player in the room.

At age 32 the linchpin of the franchise is firmly in the third quarter of a career that already includes two Super Bowl rings.

For years he was the fresh face in the huddle. He enters his 11th season the wise sage with the occasional fleck of gray in his stubble to prove it.

Not that Roethlisberger is ready to concede anything to the NFL’s version of middle age.

“Some days I feel old, some days I feel young,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel like I’m in great shape. … I can make plays if I need to.”

The Steelers, however, have done their best to make sure Roethlisberger no longer has to make them all by himself.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown is already a two-time Pro Bowler and still in the early stages of his prime. Running back Le’Veon Bell set a rookie franchise record for total yards last fall and remains six months shy of his 23rd birthday, though his preseason arrest on marijuana and DUI charges showed there are still maturity issues to resolve.

Rookie Dri Archer might be the fastest player in the league and a blank slate for offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Even an offensive line that has been together for nearly two seasons doesn’t have a starter over 28.

When Roethlisberger surveys his surroundings before he takes the first snap against Cleveland in the opener on Sept. 7, he and good friend Heath Miller will be the only offensive players in black and gold over 30.

The team labeled “old, slow and over” by critics during a pair of lackluster 8-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013 has rebuilt itself on the fly. It’s time to find out if the kids can play.