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Restless rookies

Sports | Relative unknown Ben Roethlisberger has been the best of a rookie crop of quarterbacks

Issue: "Yasser Arafat: In memoriam," Nov. 20, 2004

In April, Eli Manning and his family postured, Philip Rivers looked to San Diego, and Ben Roethlisberger, the forgotten top quarterback on NFL draft day, waited. Then, once Pittsburgh made him its first-round pick after Mr. Manning and Mr. Rivers were drafted, Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said: "I feel that once I get on the field, my will to win is much greater than both of them. . . . I think I bring a little more athleticism than both of them, but I guess we'll have to wait and see."

Mr. Roethlisberger couldn't have known when he dropped all the way to Pittsburgh that he was drafted into a nearly perfect situation. The Steelers possess one of the league's best offensive lines. The team runs the ball well and has athletic wide receivers like Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress for targets. An elbow injury to Tommy Maddox in the second week created a clear path for Mr. Roethlisberger. By the season's midpoint, the rookie quarterback had won all six of his starts, including toppling undefeated New England and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks. All the while, Mr. Roethlisberger had completed nearly 70 percent of his passes at the season's midway point.

For Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, the waiting is the hardest part, especially as the Pittsburgh rookie racks up the accolades. Right now, both the Giants and Chargers have the luxury of not endangering their future stars before they are ready. Because of his lengthy holdout, Mr. Rivers never had a shot at the starting quarterback job in San Diego. And through half a season, Drew Brees has made certain that Mr. Rivers stays on the bench.

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The Giants management sees former MVP Kurt Warner as a way to protect their investment in their rookie quarterback. The theory goes that by allowing Mr. Manning to grow in the shade, he won't have to deal with the pounding that even great NFL quarterbacks can take in their first season. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman paid a price for playing behind a dismal offensive line his first two seasons. He suffered two concussions, one from a blow in 1989 that knocked him unconscious for several minutes.

But still Mr. Manning waits. The Colts made his older brother a fixture as starting quarterback in the first game of his career. Eli Manning's first appearance occurred in fourth-quarter mop-up duty during game one. The family that worked to engineer the perfect scenario for their son could be seeing that the artificial turf is greener in Pittsburgh.

Freshmen flounder

Four quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the NFL's April draft. Rookie signal callers often find it difficult to earn playing time. This season is no different. Of the four, just one started in the first half of the season. Another, Craig Krenzel, has found his way into the starting lineup.

Eli Manning, 1st pick, Giants Mr. Manning completed three of nine passes in game one, but when former MVP Kurt Warner found his old form, Mr. Manning rode pine.

Philip Rivers, 4th pick, Chargers Mr. Rivers's lengthy contract dispute with San Diego may have cost the rookie quarterback a shot at the starting job, but it's revitalized Drew Brees's career. Mr. Brees won the job by default and has posted career numbers while Mr. Rivers, who hasn't completed a pass, sits.

Ben Roethlisberger, 11th pick, Steelers In Big Ben's first game against Cleveland, he broke out for 231 yards passing in the Steelers' conservative air attack. The next week, he completed 21 of 25 passes against Dallas, earning praise from Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.

J.P. Losman, 22nd pick, Bills Buffalo traded its 1st-round pick in 2005 for Mr. Losman, who promptly broke his leg. Mr. Losman could take over for veteran Drew Bledsoe near the end of the season.

Craig Krenzel, 148th pick, Bears Sure, Matt Schaub and Luke McCown were both drafted ahead of Mr. Krenzel, but after an injury to Rex Grossman, Mr. Krenzel outplayed Jonathan Quinn for the starting job in Chicago. He even won his first two starts.

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