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Roethlisberger struggles to throw deep; Polamalu encouraged he'll be back

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Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers strongsaftey Troy Polamalu during practice on the South Side Nov. 28, 2012.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:13 p.m.

Ask Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his assistants how they determine when an injured player is ready to return, and they'll offer this: “We go by what we see.”

Here's what Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are seeing of Ben Roethlisberger in practice: Not much.

Here's what Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau are seeing of Troy Polamalu: Quite a lot but not enough for him to play full time.

The Steelers went through an unusual practice Thursday in which quarterback Charlie Batch again ran the first-team offense but most eyes were on Roethlisberger, who still hasn't ruled himself out of playing Sunday in Baltimore.

Roethlisberger threw lightly Wednesday, and, according to Haley, he worked with teammates only during the front end of practice Thursday.

The problem: Roethlisberger still isn't pain-free, still isn't throwing deep and apparently still isn't recovered from a complicated upper-body injury.

Roethlisberger is healing not only from a posterior dislocation of the sternoclavicular joint and a dislocated rib but also, he was told by doctors, an underlying fracture in his upper chest that requires time for ossification, the formation of new bone.

Before ossification began, a piece of his rib could have punctured the aorta — the body's largest artery — and created a life-threatening condition, Roethlisberger was told.

Doctors who are not consulting with Roethlisberger but who treat patients with similar conditions said the aorta is more likely to be threatened by a fracture, not a dislocation.

Roethlisberger's doctors have not publicly discussed the injury, and the team has explained it only as a shoulder injury. Tomlin said he considers the SC joint and rib problems to be a single injury.

When he returns, Roethlisberger will wear a heavier shoulder pad reinforced by Kevlar and the flak jacket he always wears, but they can't totally prevent another injury.

“I can play through a lot of pain,” Roethlisberger said. “But mostly it's just, to me, ability. Can I make a long throw? Can I put a lot of zip on the ball, throw it really hard before people like (Ravens safety) Ed Reed and defenders can get to the ball? Because if I can't, then I'm not putting this team in the best situation to win the game.”

Because Roethlisberger still isn't airing out his passes, Haley talked as if it's almost a done deal Batch will start, despite throwing three interceptions and missing receivers during the 20-14 loss in Cleveland on Sunday.

“When you talk about a quarterback who hasn't played a whole lot — to get an opportunity and then get a second opportunity, a second full week of practice, I would expect him to be better,” Haley said.

Polamalu has waited nearly two months for his torn right calf to heal, and the full practices he went through Wednesday and Thursday were his first since he was reinjured Oct. 7.

Polamalu is encouraged to be back — “I'm very excited,” he said — but he still requires extensive post-practice therapy.

“I don't think he will be able to be out there every snap, but he is going to be able to take a significant role,” LeBeau said. “He has been idle for a good while. ... He is in good shape. His aerobic conditioning is good, but I think his football conditioning needs some development.”

Polamalu, like Roethlisberger, is a restless healer.

“There's a reason why the Steelers don't have cheerleaders,” Polamalu said. “I'm not on the sidelines cheering. I'm a football player.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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