Steelers coach Tomlin: Roethlisberger must prove he's ready
Coach Mike Tomlin's message to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger couldn't be any more clear: Show me, and now.
With the Steelers (7-5) entering the critical final quarter of their season that begins Sunday against the Chargers (4-8), Tomlin apparently won't adopt a wait-and-see attitude regarding Roethlisberger's status.
Roethlisberger is making progress as he heals from significant rib and shoulder-related injuries, including an upper-chest fracture. He threw Monday, Tomlin said. Late last week, Roethlisberger could throw only a short distance and with visible pain.
If Roethlisberger is to play this week, Tomlin wants to see him throwing hard, accurate passes Wednesday during the first of two major pregame practices. If he can't, Charlie Batch will get the majority of the practice-week work with the regulars and, almost certainly, the start Sunday.
“We will see where the week takes us, particularly (Wednesday),” Tomlin said Tuesday. “It will provide some clarity for us, and we will be able to make firm decisions. As we sit here and prepare to put together a game plan, we are doing so in the same manner as we did a week ago in that Batch is our guy.”
Last week, the Steelers waited until Friday to rule Roethlisberger out.
“Ben is getting closer to being healthy,” Tomlin said. “We will see what that looks like on a football field.”
Batch, who turns 38 on Wednesday, proved Sunday to Tomlin that he still can win big games under difficult circumstances. Batch threw for 276 yards — the most he has had in 11 years — and a touchdown as the Steelers strengthened their playoff chances by beating the Ravens, 23-20, in Baltimore.
Batch's play was far superior to that of that week before, when he looked slow and rusty while throwing three interceptions during a 20-14 loss in Cleveland. His redemptive performance against the Ravens probably lessens the urgency for Roethlisberger to return before he is close to being 100 percent.
When Roethlisberger is healthy, Tomlin said, “Obviously, Ben is our quarterback.”
Tomlin wouldn't speculate whether Roethlisberger might dress as a backup Sunday if he's not ready to start. Brian Hoyer was the backup in Baltimore, and Tomlin said whatever practice work Roethlisberger gets will decrease Hoyer's.
“It would be premature to start to make those kind of judgments until we see what he looks like throwing the football,” Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger's rib isn't the only major injury the Steelers are dealing with. Ike Taylor, the cornerback who usually draws the opponent's best receiver, could miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured right ankle.
“It's very frustrating,” Taylor said during his TribLIVE Radio show. “To not be out there, it's killing me. I'm doing everything in my will to get back out there.”
Taylor isn't certain how long he will be out because, he said, “A fracture can be hairline to a small crack. Some people heal faster than others. Hopefully, I heal faster than others.”
Cortez Allen, who played exclusively as a nickel back until replacing Taylor in Baltimore, will start for Taylor. Curtis Brown will be the nickel back.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle) is questionable. Left guard Willie Colon (knee), wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (sprained shoulder), Mike Wallace (inflamed right knee) and Antonio Brown (ankle), and safety Ryan Clark (hip) are expected to play but could be limited early in the practice week.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.