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Goodell clears Big Ben to return to practice

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleared Ben Roethlisberger to return to practice, an indication that the Steelers quarterback is making the kind of progress that could get a six-game suspension in 2010 reduced to four games.

The National Football League announced Roethlisberger's reinstatement Thursday night. The two-time Super Bowl winner is expected to practice with the Steelers on Tuesday when they resume offseason drills.

Roethlisberger had been barred from the Steelers' facility since April 21, when Goodell suspended him for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy and ordered him to undergo a behavioral evaluation.

Goodell allowed Roethlisberger, who has been accused of sexual assault twice since July, to return after "recommendations of our medical experts," the NFL said in a statement.

"The commissioner will continue to monitor Roethlisberger's progress as he begins the next phase of his recommended plan, and (Goodell) will meet with Roethlisberger again at an appropriate time."

The NFL said Goodell will review Roethlisberger's progress prior to the start of the regular season and decide whether to reduce the suspension to four games.

The league also said in its release: "Failure to cooperate and follow (Goodell's) plan could result in a longer suspension."

Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, could not be reached for comment last night.

Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a release: "We look forward to having Ben rejoin his teammates on the practice field."

Roethlisberger has missed 11 practices since Goodell handed down the longest suspension ever for a player who has violated the personal conduct policy -- it was enacted in 2007 -- but never been arrested.

The Steelers have six more voluntary practices that run through June 10.

Roethlisberger has kept a low profile since a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her March 5 in Milledgeville, Ga.

His teammates have said Roethlisberger will be embraced when he returns to the Steelers.

Wide receiver Hines Ward said getting back to work at the Steelers' headquarters will be therapeutic for Roethlisberger, who participated in two practices before Goodell suspended him.

"The worst thing is for Ben to sit around at home and sulk about everything," said Ward, who was a co-captain on offense last season with Roethlisberger.

"We always say football is our sanctuary to get away from our problems. Our job is to help him feel comfortable. We're just trying to help him cope and get over this and move on."

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