Curran: Roethlisberger continues to rehab his image

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Curran: Roethlisberger continues to rehab his image

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

DALLAS I want to be a role model, Ben Roethlisberger said at the Super Bowl this week. I want people to look up to me. I like when kids wear my jersey and stuff.

Can Roethlisberger ever hope to be that? Hope to be the guy that parents point to and say to their kids, Try and be just like him?

Hes trying. Really hard. But you cant operate on a torn and tattered reputation like an ACL. You can only rehab. And even then, the scars on that reputation will probably never go away.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the Super Bowl and Roethlisberger may win his third title in six seasons. Yet the fact that Roethlisberger started the season on a four-game suspension (reduced from six) because of an offseason incident in Milledgeville, Georgia and boorish behavior prior is a lingering embarrassment.

As much as the Steelers insist Roethlisbergers absence galvanized the team, as much as they celebrate his efforts at being, simply, a better guy, its hard to look at him and not wonder if his transformation came because of self-reflection or self-preservation.

Its hard to look at him and not wonder just what happened in Lake Tahoe, where a woman accused him of sexual assault in 2008. Or what happened last offseason in Georgia when he was investigated for the same thing. Criminal charges were never brought in either case, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodells suspension of Roethlisberger spoke volumes.

When handing the suspension down last April, Goodell wrote in a letter that Roethlisbergers actions in Milledgeville raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare."

Goodell also noted, I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."

Roethlisberger took the commissioners advice to heart. He has, at least in the minds of teammates, coaches and players within the Steelers organization, fixed himself.

Ben is a highly respected member of our football team, not only because of what hes done this year, but just as large, his body of work and the person that he is, said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Monday. We all fall short of perfection, we all make mistakes. His are well-documented. Hes doing the best that he can in terms of moving forward with it, as are his teammates.

This week, Roethlisberger is having to face the music. Under the media glare of the most intensely covered game in American sports, he is gently poked and prodded about how hes different, how hes changed.

He stays away from specifics and introspection. He doesnt offer apologies. Hes in a move forward mode, which is understandable since behind him is a flaming car wreck that begs explanation.

Asked about his redemption on Monday, Roethlisberger answered, I think thats a great reflective question And the time for reflecting is probably after the year. I cant reflect now. I have to think about this game.

When pressed for more reflection, Roethlisberger said, You want to be a good person. You want to be a good someday, hopefully father and husband, whatever that entails . . . There are a lot of people you need to be a role model to. Its not just the fans on the street. I want to be, someday when I have kids, a role model to my kids as well.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert firmly believes that this new Roethlisberger is authentic.

I think over time, Bens proven who he really is, Colbert said Tuesday. We knew what he was as a player, but now everybody gets to see who Ben Roethlisberger is. Im not surprised where he is as a player or off the field. Ben Roethlisberger comes from a very good family. He was brought up right. Look, theres gonna be mistakes everybody makes along the way. But if you get down to the core of who a person is and you feel comfortable about that, they will come out the other side.

Its been interesting this season to measure the reaction to Roethlisbergers redemption against that of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

There is, of course, no way to measure accurately who the public forgives more fully. But while Vick spent time in federal prison and Roethlisberger was never actually charged with a crime, there seems a greater willingness among people to at least forgive Vick.

Maybe its because Vick paid his debt to society in prison. But probably not. More likely? While what Vick did to all those dogs he killed and tortured along with his friends was mind-bogglingly evil, the image of Roethlisberger mistreating women is more offensive to our collective sensibilities.

That and the fact that because of the legalities involved Roethlisberger has only apologized generally. He said in April, I am accountable for the consequences of my actions. Though I have committed no crime, I regret that I have fallen short of the values instilled in me by my family . . . I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base. I am disappointed that I have reached this point and will not put myself in this situation again. I appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in my life and will make the necessary improvements."

Ben Roethlisberger cannot win this battle. He cannot unring the bell that was sounded. His suspension rather than serving as a sentence was actually just confirmation that he was a bad guy.

Whether hes still a bad guy whos now behaving better or a decent person who went way off the rails, the stain remains.

Roethlisberger seems to have come to grips with that reality.

Inner peace is a great thing when you have it, he said Monday. If you know what it is, I think you would understand where Im coming from.

Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

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Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

FOXBORO -- Late last year, Bill Belichick went out of his way to explain just how far then-rookie defensive lineman Malcom Brown had progressed over the course of his first professional season. 

From the sounds of it, the first-round defensive tackle's on-the-field growth was atypical. 

"I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players," Belichick said on Dec. 30. "It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game – running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments – just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it.

"He’s really hit a good slope, good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."

Brown finished the year as the Patriots interior defensive lineman with the most snaps played (his 517 snaps trailed only Jabaal Sheard, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among defensive linemen), and he established himself as a trustworthy option in the team's steady rotation on the interior of its front. 

According to one of Brown's newest teammates, free-agent acquisition Terrance Knighton, Brown is now serving as a leader on the interior of the defensive line. Though he's only in his second season, Brown's understanding of the Patriots defense gives him a leg up on players who may have more experience in the league but are new to New England. 

"Malcom Brown has basically been leading the group," Knighton said after an OTA practice last Thursday. "Being in his second year, he's probably the most experienced guy in it right now as far as this team. I'm picking his brain to see how things are done around here."

 

Knighton acknowledged that once the Patriots have Alan Branch back on the field -- Branch was one of 17 players missing from Thursday's OTA -- they'll get another player with a sound understanding of the defense. But right now, Brown is looked to as a source of information for veterans like Knighton and Markus Kuhn as well as rookie fourth-rounder Vincent Valentine. 

"Young guy, obviously played at a high level last year and you can tell he's feeding off of that," Knighton said of Brown. "He's only continued, from what I've seen on tape to now. That's one of the things I try to talk to about with the young guys is being on the up, and not going up and down in your career. That's something I've been through in my career so I just try to share knowledge and help guys out."

Brown, who turned 22 in February, certainly ended last season "on the up." In the early going this offseason, it seems as though he's on track to continue that trajectory.

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

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Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear.