Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles can't recall the first time he was compared to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
"I've heard that for a while now," Bortles said.
For good reason. Both have 6-foot-5 frames, ample mobility and an uncanny ability to shake off tackles and extend plays. The similarities could become even more evident when the Jaguars (0-4) host the Steelers (2-2) on Sunday, which will mark Bortles' first start at home.
Like Bortles, the 32-year-old Roethlisberger welcomes the parallels.
"I think it's great," Roethlisberger said. "I think Blake is a good player. He shows a lot of characteristics of a young me. I think he can move better than I can nowadays in my old age, but he does a lot of great things. I'm excited for his opportunity."
Bortles and Roethlisberger met before the NFL draft and worked out together, with Roethlisberger saying he "wanted to get an up close and personal look" at the former UCF standout.
"I thought he was the most ready and a guy I thought could be the best just because of the things he does," Roethlisberger said. "He can extend plays. He can stay in (the pocket). He can throw the ball. He can throw on the run. He is an impressive-type young player. He makes some rookie mistakes, but he also makes some plays that you don't expect rookies to make in a good way."
Bortles has made several errors in his first two games, which Jacksonville deemed acceptable growing pains for a rookie learning the nuances of playing arguably the most important position in team sports. Bortles has completed 70 percent of his passes for 476 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions in six quarters. He's also run for 54 yards and been sacked four times.
Roethlisberger experienced similar hurdles in his first year. He threw 11 interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked 30 times in 2004. Of course, he also helped the Steelers go 15-1 in the regular season and advance to the AFC championship game while being voted Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Bortles is well aware of Roethlisberger's accomplishments — one reason he's a bit hesitant to fully embrace the comparisons.
"He's won two Super Bowls and been to all kinds of Pro Bowls, and I've played one game," Bortles said. "There's a big difference there."
Aside from similar signal callers, here are some things to know about the Steelers and Jaguars heading into Sunday's game:
REBOUND ROAD: With both teams coming off losses, somebody will get to rebound in Week 5. The Steelers are looking to erase memories of a puzzling loss to Tampa Bay, which overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win in Pittsburgh. The Buccaneers hit a 41-yard pass play, which set up a touchdown with 7 seconds left, and stunned the Steelers. Jacksonville, meanwhile, lost its fifth consecutive game by double digits. The Jags kept it close early at San Diego, but faded late.
ROOKIE BLUES: The Steelers are 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks since defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau returned in 2004. The only rookies to beat Pittsburgh under LeBeau are Baltimore's Troy Smith in 2007 and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden in 2012. "They have some veteran guys over there that have seen a lot of ball and have been around a while and seen just about everything," Bortles said. "I think they're solid at what they do."
PENALTY PROBLEMS: Pittsburgh is second in the NFL in penalties a month into the season, averaging 11 a game, including 13 in last week's loss to Tampa Bay. Coach Mike Tomlin brought in local high school football referees to monitor practice this week in hopes of getting his team back to minimizing the flags. "I understand that penalties are a part of football, but the ones that really get me going are the presnap penalties because that's concentration, detail, cohesion and game readiness," Tomlin said.
WIDE RECEIVER GAP: The Steelers have the AFC's leading receiver in Antonio Brown. The Jaguars have two promising rookies and a banged-up group around them.
Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has 29 catches for 427 yards and five touchdowns. Jacksonville has Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, but will be without veteran Cecil Shorts III and rookie Marqise Lee because of hamstring injuries. The Jaguars are so banged-up they're planning to thrust second-year pro Ace Sanders into action after missing the first four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
ROLLING ROETHLISBERGER: Roethlisberger called Pittsburgh's offense perhaps the best he's had in a decade. Through four games, the numbers back it up. He's completing 68 percent of his passes — which would be a career high — and is on pace for a career high in yards passing. Roethlisberger would like to help the offense become more efficient in the red zone, but added at least they're not off to the miserable 0-4 start that doomed their 2013 season.
"We're doing better than we were last year, but we're still going to be disappointed where we are," he said.
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