PITTSBURGH – A few days before a kid named Ben Roethlisberger stepped into the Steelers’ lineup for good, a gruff offensive lineman took a dim view when asked if he was excited to be playing with a rookie quarterback.
Six years later, Roethlisberger is that gruff veteran taking a similar view about having a rookie, Marcus Gilbert, step into the lineup as the Steelers’ starting right tackle.
Roethlisberger didn't mince words when asked if he’ll have to simplify things for the kid Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“No,” Roethlisberger said. “He better catch up. If he’s not there, we’re not slowing down for him. We expect him to catch up and get on pace with us.”
Roethlisberger said he’s confident in Gilbert, and that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is confident in Gilbert, but the quarterback still sat down and had a talk with him.
“I said, ‘Listen, not only do you need to learn this offense, you better have the no-huddle down pat because we’re going to do it and I’m not slowing down for you.’
“So I have confidence he’ll be ready to go.”
Roethlisberger wasn’t the only player to have a talk with Gilbert. His former college teammate, Maurkice Pouncey, sat him down after the first week of training camp
“I basically told him it’s a lot different from college now,” said Pouncey. “You’re not getting pampered all the time. You’ve got to go in here and be accountable for everything that you do.”
Was he unprepared for training camp?
“A little bit,” Pouncey said. “He’s a lot better now than what he was.”
Gilbert reported to training camp out of shape and then pulled a hamstring in his first practice and missed a week. But to his credit he came back to play well against big-time pass-rushers Trent Cole and John Abraham in preseason games.
The 6-6, 330-pound rookie not only made the team, he took the important “swing tackle” role for the Steelers, and then was promoted to right tackle after Willie Colon went down for the season with a torn triceps in the opener.
Pouncey, who had good things to say to the organization when asked about Gilbert, his former college teammate, at draft time, was happy for a player who’s also become his next-door neighbor.
“For one second I was happy,” Pouncey said. “I told him congratulations, but other than that, ‘Man, you gotta get to work. Get in your playbook right now. If you got any questions you better ask.’”
How much has Gilbert improved since their days at Florida?
“He’s a lot more accountable,” Pouncey said. “He doesn’t do the little small things he did as a younger man. He’s grown. I’m very proud of him.”
After Pouncey and Gilbert talked at camp, Gilbert said he “studied with him every night. I’m basically living with him right now. Just having him by my side really helps out a lot.”
Gilbert laughed when asked if he was the “third Pouncey bro.” He also said that standing on the sideline in Baltimore was a new experience for him.
“I didn’t expect it to be more crazy than a college football game,” Gilbert said. “Florida played before 95,000. That crowd was like 75,000 and it was rocking. I never experienced anything like it. You have to learn to bring your A game to every game. No team will let you walk away with a victory. You have to basically go in there and take it.”
Kind of like a starting tackle job?
“I dream about it every day,” Gilbert said. “Trying to get the opportunity to go out there and play the game I love is the only thing I want to do.”