Will Eagles' Carson Wentz follow Roethlisberger's path?

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Posted: September 23, 2016

Once Doug Pederson determined Carson Wentz could be his starting quarterback, he cited Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 as a model for a successful rookie quarterback. Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a starter that year and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC championship.

"I was blessed with a great defense, an awesome running game on offense," Roethlisberger said during a Wednesday conference call. "So I didn't have to do too much. You kind of manage a game and don't blow it. I think I was thrust into a really good situation."

Pederson is asking Wentz to do more than manage the game this season, but the coach independently echoed Roethlisberger when describing the infrastructure that allows a rookie quarterback needs: Defense, special teams, and a running game.

"You've seen it time and time again with teams that have that formula," Pederson said.

Roethlisberger continued improving – and winning – since his rookie season, and his Steelers come to Philadelphia on Sunday as one of the best teams in the NFL and with Roethlisberger being one of the league's best quarterbacks. His on-field career would be a worthy one for Wentz to emulate, and Wentz has already heard Roethlisberger comparisons.

"I've always admired the way he plays," Wentz said. "I love how he can extend plays and improvise. He's not afraid to chuck the ball deep and make some plays."

Wentz said he has "a long way to go" to reach Roethlisberger's status, but that's a given whenever a rookie is compared with a two-time Super Bowl champion. It's not a stretch to compare the two, considering they have similar measurements (Wentz is 6-foot-5, 237 pounds; Roethlisberger is listed at 6-5 and 240 pounds), both offer athleticism for their size and a penchant to extend plays (and take big hits), and neither went to a high-profile college.

The two share the same agency and met before the draft. They worked out together and went out to dinner. Wentz said they didn't talk much football, instead focusing on a shared interest in the outdoors. Roethlisberger said his advice to Wentz was to let the game flow to him and resist the urge to do too much. He said Wednesday that a rookie quarterback must "shut up and play," letting the leaders of the team do the talking in the locker room. And what he's seen from Wentz is what's been apparent to anyone who has watched him.

"Heady player, smart, understands the game," Roethlisberger said. "Physically gifted, both with his legs and his arms. Can make all the throws. I was really surprised – I thought I was going to be facing him two times a year in Cleveland."

That last part was a subtle dig at a division rival that bypassed the chance to draft Roethlisberger in 2004 and Wentz last April. Roethlisberger emphasized that Wentz is only two games into his rookie season, and the challenge for Wentz will be to endure a season. A rookie starting quarterback in the NFL must deal with December and avoid the "rookie wall."

"No matter how much you prepare, no matter how much sleep you get, you're still coming off a long college season, you're coming off an offseason where there really isn't an offseason because you're working and training for the draft, right into an NFL season, so the season gets really long, really quick for a rookie," Roethlisberger said.

That's assuming Wentz stays healthy all season. Wentz has already taken big hits in two weeks. Like Roethlisberger, he shows toughness that teammates and fans can appreciate by exposing himself to hits, but the risk is injury.

Roethlisberger noted his own long medical record on Wednesday. He has played 16 games just three times in his career, missing time for injuries ranking from an MCL sprain to a dislocated rib to broken foot to dislocated shoulder, with other ailments in between. Roethlisberger said it's hard to find the balance between "selling your body" for the team and trying to protect the body for another play.

"At some point, you'll realize it's more important for him to be on the field than be injured and get that extra yard," said Roethlisberger, who joked that he learned the lesson when "he started to get really old."

Wentz is not yet old, and he enters his first meeting with Roethlisberger healthy. He will play for a team trying to borrow the blueprint the Steelers used when Roethlisberger was a rookie, and against the quarterback whose career progression would be a worthwhile template. That started when Wentz admired Roethlisberger's game as a teenager and spent time with the quarterback last spring.

"It was cool to really meet up with him and get to know him a little bit," Wentz said, "and I'm looking forward to playing him and getting to know him even more."

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm www.philly.com/eaglesblog

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