Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Updated: August 4, 6:58 AM ET
Steelers at the mercy of Roger Goodell
By Adam Schefter
LATROBE, Pa. -- During the next month, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will get to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell more than he should.
For starters, Goodell is scheduled to visit Steelers training camp Thursday, when he'll see Roethlisberger in person for the first time since April.
But the two are expected to meet again before the NFL season kicks off, at which time Goodell will decide whether to reduce Roethlisberger's suspension from six to four games.
All that hangs in that decision is whether the Steelers might be able to qualify for the playoffs.
Roethlisberger is assured of missing at least the first four games against the Falcons, Titans, Buccaneers and Ravens. Games 5 and 6 in question are at home against Cleveland and at Miami. Should Roethlisberger miss all six, Pittsburgh's chances of a division title or playoff run will be jeopardized.
Goodell already has made one significant decision on Roethlisberger. Another significant one awaits.
Other Steelers observations:
Even though Mike Tomlin has not named a starting quarterback for the first four games this season, the job is Byron Leftwich's to lose. Leftwich took reps with the first-team offense during organized team activities this spring. He has been sharing reps with Roethlisberger this summer as the Steelers' starting quarterback. And even though there have been moments in which Leftwich has not shined, he still is expected to start the Steelers' regular-season opener.
The roster spot of veteran Charlie Batch has to be in question at some point this season. If he starts the season on the active roster, his 2010 base salary would become fully guaranteed. But once Roethlisberger returns from his suspension, Pittsburgh will not be able to keep four quarterbacks on its roster. It creates an interesting dilemma, and a move is expected to be made at some point.
There's no way that Pittsburgh's defenders, or really anyone in the organization, would miss Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. LeBeau might be the most beloved person in the Steelers' organization. Thus, the Steelers will not conduct a Saturday afternoon practice and instead will bus to Canton, Ohio, as a team to watch their defensive coordinator be enshrined. The Steelers bus will return to Latrobe on Saturday night in time for practice Sunday.
For some reason, Hines Ward is rarely mentioned as one of the league's top wide receivers. Yet last season, Ward caught 95 passes. He needs 105 more for 1,000 in his career. Ward is still performing at a top level, yet the division's focus is on Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Anquan Boldin.
Ward is a firm believer the Steelers will return to their winning ways for one simple reason.
"Contract year," Ward said.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Ike Taylor and kicker Jeff Reed are each entering the last year of their contracts. They each want to get paid. And players who want to get paid usually go out with a point to prove.
For some reason, it feels as if there has been an endless procession of defensive dynamos who have passed through Pittsburgh. Now the Steelers believe they have found another. Pittsburgh's 2009 first-round pick, defensive end Ziggy Hood, has gotten the attention of the entire Steelers organization this spring and summer. In fact, when Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith -- who's not known for hyperbole -- showed up to training camp at St. Vincent College, he proclaimed: "Ziggy is going to be special. He's really going to blossom."
Smith is 34 years old and Pittsburgh's other starting defensive end, Brett Keisel, is 31. The Steelers now have their replacement on deck and getting ready.
For all the upheaval surrounding Pittsburgh's offensive line, it doesn't seem all that different, with the exception of former Cowboy Flozell Adams replacing Willie Colon at right tackle. If the season started today, Pittsburgh's right tackle would be Adams, its right guard would be Trai Essex, its center would be Justin Hartwig, its left guard would be Chris Kemoeatu and its left tackle would be Max Starks. Plus, first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey is waiting in the wings.
It feels like Pittsburgh brought back every ex-Steeler except Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. It feels like reunion season. Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El is back. So is linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback Bryant McFadden and Leftwich. After Pittsburgh struggled last season, it knew it could rely on some players who helped it win in the past.
One of the Steelers' coaching interns is none other than their former defensive tackle, Brenston Bucker. Asked how he is enjoying his new gig, Buckner said, "I might think I can play. But I know I can coach."
And now, on to Pittsford, N.Y., and the Buffalo Bills.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.