Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Roethlisberger takes good first step
By James Walker ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers receiver Mike Wallace was streaking down the field Tuesday when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit him in stride between two defenders for a big play.
Ben Roethlisberger returned to Steelers practice this week for the first time since April 20.
"It always feels good to have one of the best in the game back with you," Wallace said after practice.
Roethlisberger -- and the Steelers -- completed the first step in the recovery process from arguably the most chaotic offseason in franchise history. After recently being cleared to practice, Roethlisberger rejoined the team Tuesday for organized team activities. It was his first practice since April 20.
The star quarterback will serve a conditional six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy following the second sexual-assault allegation against him in less than a year. But everything seemed somewhat normal in practice considering the circumstances.
Roethlisberger looked happy and excited to be back, and so were his teammates. He worked with the first-team offense. He also joked with players and even head-butted his offensive linemen before team drills.
Add to the fact that Roethlisberger made several great throws rarely seen this offseason with Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch running the offense, and it was a good day overall for the embattled quarterback.
"It's another step," Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "We're all trying to get over this -- I think we're already over it.
"We want to get ready for the season. We got a lot of people we got to knock down, and our focus is being world champs again."
Another pleasant surprise for Pittsburgh was that "Big Ben" looked slim, particularly compared to his physique earlier this offseason. Roethlisberger, who didn't speak with the media, usually takes it easy in the offseason to recover from injuries. But based on his appearance Tuesday, it's clear that he has put in some work during his time away from the Steelers.
For the most part, Roethlisberger's throws were accurate. He missed a couple of timing routes here and there, which was expected. But Roethlisberger more than made up for it with long completions to Wallace, Arnaz Battle and Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller. The throws to Wallace and Battle, in particular, were both ropes that made it nearly impossible for defenders to make a play.
It was a display of what Pittsburgh still has at quarterback. But it also showed what the Steelers will miss for a maximum of six games this year. Roethlisberger's suspension could be reduced to four games if he stays clear of trouble.
That leaves an interesting dilemma of how to divide snaps between four quarterbacks.
Leftwich, who had an excused absence Tuesday, has worked all offseason with the first team. Roethlisberger worked with the starters in his return, as he has for most of his career. And Dixon is waiting his turn to work with the starters because he wants to compete for the quarterbacking job in Week 1.
This is a challenge Pittsburgh's coaching staff will have to figure out. There are five more days of OTAs, which will conclude for the Steelers next week. But Pittsburgh also has to determine who gets the first-team snaps throughout training camp and who plays with the starters in the preseason.
"It's a tricky situation," Pittsburgh receiver Antwaan Randle El admitted. "But you basically have to come up with a plan and work it. It's going to be hard to juggle, but we'll see how it works."
But dividing snaps with Roethlisberger is a problem for another day. This week the team was happy to have its best offensive player back in the huddle and seems ready to move forward with its 2010 season.
"He's a man and everybody makes mistakes," Wallace said. "I just feel like he's the leader of our team. Any time he comes back we accept him for who he is."