PITTSBURGH -- Despite the uncertainty of Ben Roethlisberger's elbow injury, general manager Kevin Colbert said he feels better about the Steelers heading into the 2020 season than he did at this time a year ago, even though the team was coming off a better statistical record.
But he also said the Steelers have to be "realistic" about how well Roethlisberger, who will be 38 in two weeks, will return from elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season after two games.
"He's a great quarterback that suffered a season-ending injury to his right arm," Colbert said Thursday in a meeting with local media. "Optimistically, he's on schedule to return and we hope he returns to a better Ben Roethlisberger."
Roethlisberger has been meeting routinely with members of the team's medical staff and will go to Los Angeles on Feb. 21 to be evaluated by Dr. Neil ElAttrache, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. At that time, it's possible Roethlisberger can begin some light throwing with a Nerf ball.
"All signs are good at this point," Colbert said. "We're hopeful that he can make a complete recovery and, as of right now, he's on schedule for that. Where it goes from here remains to be seen."
Colbert said he feels better about this team that finished 8-8 than the one that ended the 2018 season with a 9-7-1 record because of the improved defense.
"I think our defense was really good last year and they kept us in a lot of games," Colbert said. "We always talk about when Ben was healthy and we held a team to 21 points, his record is his career is 121-20. When we lost Ben, we knew we had hold to teams to lower than 21 points because we probably weren't going to get 21 points."
Colbert said that was the impetus to trade a first-round pick to acquire safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, whose immediate impact made him a Pro Bowl pick and first-team All-Pro selection.
"Now, with Ben out, we have to hold a team to 17 points, and when we were able to do that, we were 4-0 when Mason Rudolph as the starter," Colbert said. "When Devlin Hodges was the starter, we took it down another notch and we said we got to hold teams to 14 (points) to win, and when we held teams to 14, we were 1-0."
In their final 10 games, the Steelers held their opponent to 16.2 points per game. In that time, only three teams scored more than 21 points. They didn't not allow any team to score more than 28 points after their season-opening loss in New England (33-3).