Ben Roethlisberger played in his first NFL game 16 years ago but his nervous meter is ticking higher now after a 12-month absence from the playing field.
The quarterback known as "Big Ben" makes his return to the gridiron on Monday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers open the campaign against the host New York Giants at East Rutherford, N.J.
The 38-year-old Roethlisberger tore three tendons in his right elbow during Week 2 of the 2019 season against the Seattle Seahawks and underwent surgery. His throwing wing is now fine but he admits he's feeling like a jitterbug entering the opener.
"You always have a little bit of jitters and nerves for the first game, but the way I feel now is more than I've felt in a very long time," Roethlisberger told reporters on Wednesday. "I'm sure it's only going to intensify as the week goes on. And then Monday night, I'm sure I'm going to be shaking like a leaf."
That's quite an admission for a signal caller who owns two Super Bowl rings and has passed for 56,545 career yards and 363 touchdowns. The yardage ranks eighth in NFL history and the touchdown count is ninth.
Roethlisberger figures everything will be back to normal once the pregame anxiety wears off.
"It's going to be one of those things where you get out there and hopefully it all comes back to me really quick, and there's going to be rust, there's no doubt about it," Roethlisberger said. "But hopefully we can get it knocked off sooner than later. I think that's what makes it fun."
While Roethlisberger is looking to recapture his past form and help Pittsburgh improve from last season's 8-8 mark, Giants second-year quarterback Daniel Jones is looking to build on a solid rookie campaign.
Jones passed for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns in 13 games (12 starts) as New York believes it has found a long-time quarterback to follow the Eli Manning era.
The problem area for Jones is that he was personally responsible for 23 turnovers last season -- 12 interceptions and 11 lost fumbles. He fumbled a league-worst 18 times and made it a priority to get stronger in the offseason.
"I feel like I'm as strong as I've been," Jones told reporters. "... I wanted to get stronger and wanted to gain some weight for every part of my game -- standing in the pocket, running when I need to, and obviously throwing the ball as efficiently as I can using my strength."
The Giants were just 4-12 last season and fired Pat Shurmur after the season. The new coach is Joe Judge.
Judge has been making sure the troops know they have entered a no-nonsense zone. He reiterated that point Thursday when he stopped practice to discuss a slow start and ordered the team to restart the session.
"Everything we do is going to have purpose behind it," star running back Saquon Barkley said afterward. "... The thing is that on Monday, there won't be any restarts. We have to find a way to have that energy and find a way to have that purpose from the beginning. It shouldn't take a restart for it to happen."
Barkley has churned up 3,469 scrimmage yards in his first two NFL seasons. That brings consternation to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
"Five to 10-yard runs can quickly become 50 to 60-yard runs when you're facing a guy with the talent of Saquon," Tomlin said. "We're going to spend a lot of time preparing to minimize his impact."
Pittsburgh outside linebackers T.J. Watt (career-best 14.5 sacks in 2019) and Bud Dupree career-high (11.5 sacks) will certainly be mindful of stopping Barkley from getting outside the box while also looking to harass Jones.
The Giants added two stout defenders in linebacker Blake Martinez (second in NFL with 155 tackles last season for Green Bay) and cornerback Logan Ryan (four interceptions for Tennessee) in the offseason.
But perhaps the most bizarre element of the opener is playing a Monday Night Football game with no fans with only the sounds of pumped-in crowd noise breaking the silence.
"It's certainly going to be different, of course," New York defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. "But I know the crowd noise, it helps a lot because we get so locked in on the field that it sounds like the fans are there even though you look up and it's empty. You still get the feeling of somebody's watching from the noise."
--Field Level Media