A slimmed-down Ben Roethlisberger whistled practice passes to
his receivers for the first time in five weeks, and a teammate
didn’t need to watch video tape to know what he’d just seen.
“He’s been working hard at home,” defensive end Brett Keisel
said. “He wants to be great this year. So, hopefully, he
Even if considerable repair work needs to be done, on the field
and off it.
The two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback didn’t talk to
reporters after practicing Tuesday for the first time since drawing
a six-game suspension April 21 for violating the NFL’s personal
The penalty resulted from a Georgia college student’s allegation
that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in a nightclub, and
though he does not face criminal charges in the case, NFL
commissioner Roger Goodell said the quarterback’s drinking and
carousing failed to meet the league’s expectations for player
Roethlisberger took part in voluntary practices April 19 and 20,
but was barred from working out again until he underwent a
league-ordered behavioral evaluation and was cleared by Goodell to
resume team activities. The commissioner still hasn’t decided if
Roethlisberger’s suspension will be reduced to four games.
The consensus among Roethlisberger’s teammates: Good to have him
back, now let’s move on – even if they realize that can’t possibly
happen for months.
“We’re all trying to get over this. I think we’re all already
over this, we want to get ready for the season,” said lineman
Willie Colon, the only Steelers teammate known to have been with
Roethlisberger the night of the incident in Georgia back in early
March. “We’ve got a lot of people we got to knock down. Our focus
is being world champs again, and that’s where we’re all headed
Roethlisberger, wearing a white No. 7 jersey atop a yellow
practice shirt, took all the snaps with the starters during the
90-minute practice, partly because Byron Leftwich had a previously
scheduled commitment and missed the voluntary practice. Coach Mike
Tomlin also departed early for the same reason and didn’t answer
The only noticeable difference in Roethlisberger since those
earlier practices is the weight he’s dropped, several players
“He’s been on the treadmill a little bit,” Colon said. “He’s
trying to get a beach body on.”
Nothing’s changed with Roethlisberger’s throwing arm. He found
Mike Wallace and Arnaz Battle on deep passes and, near the end of
the 90-minute workout, hit Battle between two defenders along the
sideline. That’s the kind of pass the Steelers haven’t seen their
other quarterbacks complete this spring.
Leftwich is expected to divide training camp snaps with
Roethlisberger as the Steelers prepare one quarterback to start the
season and a suspended quarterback to take over sometime in
October. No NFL team has gone through such a scenario before
starting a season, and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El cautioned it
won’t be easy. Quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch will
also go to camp.
“It’s very delicate and I don’t know how they’re going to do
it,” Randle El said. “It’s a tricky situation. But you’ve got to
come up with a plan and work it.”
Roethlisberger can take part in training camp and play in
exhibition games, but will be barred from all team activities once
his suspension begins at the start of the season.
He has spoken only once since being accused of assault in
Milledgeville, Ga. – when he read a brief statement on April 12. A
team spokesman offered no explanation for Roethlisberger’s decision
not to talk on Tuesday.
Still, Roethlisberger seemed to smile more than usual while
practicing, and Dixon said it was evident this wasn’t a routine
“He was excited, and that’s what you wanted,” Dixon said. “He
loves what he does, and getting back on the field, it was great to
see his familiar face.”
Randle El is convinced Roethlisberger has undergone considerable
soul-searching the last three months and is determined to become a
“Any time you go through something, it makes you step back and
take a look and evaluate, who you’re hanging around with and who
you’re involved with, it makes you do a little bit of an evaluation
of your life,” Randle El said.
However, the accusation – plus a separate lawsuit accusing
Roethlisberger of sexual assault in Nevada – has visibly angered
and disappointed the Steelers’ huge fan base, with many saying
they’ll never feel the same way about the franchise again until
Roethlisberger is gone. His merchandise sales have plummeted, and
some business owners say they can’t give away his jerseys.
Regardless, his teammates are offering Roethlisberger any
support he wants, Randle El said. They hope that the public
eventually comes around, too.
“We’ve all been through different things, we’ve all made
different mistakes,” Randle El said. “When you make those
mistakes, as a player, as a friend, as anybody, you’ve got to have
forgiveness in your heart. To be able to forget and move on, that’s
the kind of thing you have to do and expect. Not just from players
but from friends and family, and even everybody that was involved.
Everybody makes mistakes, but you can’t hold onto it for
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