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Ben Roethlisberger feels ‘really good,’ says 2019 surgery repaired 3 torn elbow tendons
1:50 PM ET
  • Brooke PryorESPN Staff Writer

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    • Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger knew something was seriously wrong with his right elbow the instant he let go of the football late in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks last year.

Speaking for the first time since he suffered the season-ending injury in Week 2, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said he dealt with the elbow pain “for years,” but the feeling that radiated through his elbow after he threw a long pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster was different.

“On the drive in Seattle, just kind of that pain wasn’t really going away,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday morning. “I threw one deep one to JuJu down the right side, and I really felt a different pain and different discomfort than I ever felt. It was shooting down my arm, and so I knew something was different at that moment.”

A couple of weeks later, Roethlisberger had season-ending surgery to reattach three torn flexor tendons in his right elbow.

“They sew through the tendon, and they reattach it to an anchor in your elbow,” he said. “As far as I am aware, it’s happened to just kind of everyday people on the street, if you will.

“From what I’ve been told, it’s never happened to a quarterback of this magnitude. I believe there was at least another quarterback that had one, maybe two torn off, but from what I understand, not three.”

Roethlisberger threw at the Steelers’ training camp practice Monday and said he plans to throw about half that amount Tuesday before taking Wednesday off.

“My arm feels really, really good,” he said. “Threw a lot of balls yesterday. Waking up today to see how it’s going to feel, and it feels great. That’s kind of what I anticipated.

“We’ve been working more than usual in the offseason in terms of throwing. I’ve put together a regime of two to three days per week of throwing for the last probably two months, if not longer than that. I think the plan is to kind of pitch-count, if you will, through training camp.”

While Roethlisberger feels good and said he hasn’t had any setbacks, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner acknowledged last week that he might have to rein in his quarterback during camp.

“I think we’ll have to play that by ear, eventually how he feels and how much he wants,” Fichtner said. “There’s times where he wants it all and we’ll have to back him off. That’s a good thing.”

For Roethlisberger, 38, any thoughts of not coming back from the September injury were fleeting. While he rehabbed his elbow, Roethlisberger said he got a head start working out — a process he wouldn’t normally start until a couple of months into the offseason.

“I’m lighter than I’ve been in 13, 14 years,” he said. “I feel strong, I feel healthy, I feel young, if you can feel young at this age.”

He added later: “Not dealing with a nagging elbow is definitely something. I’m not saying that it was every day that it bothered me, but to feel healthy, to feel more in shape, things like that — obviously you can’t turn back Father Time and make myself feel like I’m 21 and run all over the field, but I think you can go on the field even at an older age and feel really good.”

Roethlisberger also said he gained a new perspective of the Steelers’ offense from watching on the sideline while wearing a headset — something he hadn’t done since he played wide receiver as a junior in high school.

“I was able to watch more because I could watch the big picture, and I was able to speak to more guys on the sideline and talk to them and communicate kind of what I saw and what did they see,” he said. “I think it was beneficial.”

During his time away from the playing field last year, Roethlisberger also had opportunities to think about his legacy and his future. He was determined not to let his final moment on Heinz Field be walking off while holding his elbow. That thought — and winning more Super Bowls — motivated him during his rehab and drove him to return.

“Any athlete, any competitor, will tell you they want to go out on their own terms,” Roethlisberger said. “It doesn’t happen all the time. We don’t always get lucky, whether it’s trades, cuts, injuries, whatever that is. I think if I had felt that I was closer to the end, it might’ve been more of a decision for me to think longer about coming back or not.

“I just didn’t feel like I’m close to that yet. I’m not saying I’ve got 10 years left in me, but I definitely feel like I’ve got some really good years left in me. That was definitely a motivating factor was coming back and showing that I still have it in the tank. I still have a lot to give this team. I still have a lot to give the fans and I still want to win Lombardis, and I say that with a plural on the end.”

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