Steelers' Tomlin won't be persuaded to play Ben too soon
Ben Roethlisberger's power of healing is often eclipsed only by his power of persuasion.
But as important as their upcoming game in Baltimore is to the Steelers, this is one time when the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback won't be able to talk his way back into the lineup. He'll have to throw his way into it, and that won't be easy.
Roethlisberger remains in discomfort from the dislocated rib and upper body/shoulder injury that sidelined him during losses to the Ravens and Browns. He badly wants to play Sunday, but coach Mike Tomlin apparently will require a whole lot more than gentle persuasion for that to happen.
Roethlisberger threw lightly Monday, but Tomlin did not watch the session and wasn't able to assess it.
Tomlin said Tuesday the Steelers (6-5) are preparing No. 3 quarterback Charlie Batch to start Sunday against the Ravens (9-2), despite his dismal, three-interception performance that Tomlin admittedly found unacceptable during a 20-14 loss in Cleveland.
“Right now, Charlie Batch is our quarterback,” Tomlin said on a busy day of news in which two players — Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall — were demoted for their below-Tomlin's-line performances. “We are working offensively to put together a game plan that complements his strengths.”
Right now, those strengths don't include making deep throws downfield, something Batch appeared to be incapable of doing effectively in Cleveland. But while Roethlisberger can be the quickest of healers, returning so soon from such significant injuries might be too much to ask even of a player who has played in pain numerous times.
To change Tomlin's mind, Roethlisberger probably needs to show during practice Wednesday and Thursday that he has enough arm strength to make any required throw and doesn't have any discernible pain.
“It's more than just what comes out of his mouth,” said Tomlin, who knows all about Roethlisberger's proven ability to lobby his way back into the lineup. “There's also how they say it and what it is that we see. And what it is that we see (is) probably the chief element in terms of decision-making.”
Still, Tomlin hasn't completely ruled out the possibility that Roethlisberger might play, saying, “We will leave the door open for him.”
Roethlisberger limped onto the field to play in San Francisco last season only a week after sustaining a high-ankle sprain — an injury that can sideline a player for six weeks. But he was ineffective in a 20-3 loss, and the Steelers sat him out a week later against the Rams.
Backup Byron Leftwich, also healing from multiple fractured ribs, is throwing again — as is Roethlisberger — but doesn't appear to be an option only two weeks after getting hurt in a 13-10 loss to the Ravens. Neither does new backup Brian Hoyer, who has practiced for less than a week.
Hoyer is the “emergency” quarterback, Tomlin said, suggesting he would play only if there was no other one else healthy enough to do so.
Tomlin hasn't always appeared to be a Batch fan — the quarterback was in danger of being cut during training camp — he said Batch currently offers the best chance of winning.
“He's a capable, veteran guy, one that guys believe in, one that the guys believe in, one that we know is capable of providing a winning-type performance for us,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers haven't always been able to deliver such performances without Roethlisberger; they are 8-7 without him, 0-5 against Baltimore. But, for the time being, they can only wait for Roethlisberger to show them he's healthy enough to play.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.