Roethlisberger practices with Steelers; Brown, Williams ruled out
Antonio Brown won't play Sunday, and DeAngelo Williams won't, either.
But the injury news wasn't all bad at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Friday.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was officially a full participant in practice for the first time this week, and several teammates confirmed he was making throws of various types — and distances — in testing his injured shoulder for the first time since last Saturday's wild-card playoff victory at Cincinnati.
Roethlisberger is listed as questionable for Sunday's divisional game at Denver.
“It was great to have him back out there,” receiver Martavis Bryant said. “He did a great job today. I know his arm is probably going to be sore after this.”
Bryant termed Roethlisberger's arm strength as “same as usual.”
“Ben is always gonna be Ben. He is a tough player and a great player, so he'll be ready to go on Sunday.”
Tight end/fullback Will Johnson confirmed that among Roethlisberger's throws were “most of the route tree” and deep throws.
“That was the plan coming in all week — for him to take it light during the early portions of the week and Friday try it a little bit,” Johnson said.
Coach Mike Tomlin told the team's official website he wanted to see Roethlisberger attempt “a variety” of “specific” throws.
“He did everything we asked him to do,” Tomlin said.
If Roethlisberger plays, it will be without his top receiving threat.
Brown, who had 136 catches, tied for the second most in a season in NFL history, was ruled out before Friday's practice. Tomlin informed players during meetings Friday morning.
“If (Brown was cleared to play), obviously, we would be excited about that,” receiver Markus Wheaton said. “But we planned (all week) to not have him.”
Brown will miss a game for the first time since 2012 because he suffered a concussion during the Steelers' final offensive play of their 18-16 win against the Bengals last Saturday.
A reigning two-time All Pro who had a Steelers-record 1,834 receiving yards this season, Brown was injured after a hit to the head by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the infraction being penalized 15 yards and helping the Steelers get into range for the winning field goal in the final minute.
Two Bengals players and Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter received fines Friday for their actions occurring in the moments after Brown was hit and while he was lying on the Paul Brown Stadium turf.
Bengals defensive back Adam Jones, in social media postings and in web and television interviews, accused Brown of faking his injury over the ensuing three days. “He flopped,” Jones said on Instagram.
But Jones promised he would apologize to Brown if he didn't play against the Broncos — though he insisted Brown would be cleared to play.
A few hours after the Steelers pronounced Brown out, Jones took to Instagram to deliver his I'm-sorry message: “AB, my apology, my brother. I'm a man of my word. I've been doing a little traveling so that's what took me so long, but I apologize. Sincerely, man, get well.”
With Brown not playing, Wheaton and Bryant will take on more prominent roles in the passing game, and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey will be promoted to the No. 3 wideout. Rookie Sammie Coates, a third-round pick who has one catch in six games, figures to be activated as the fourth wide receiver against the Broncos, who led the NFL in total defense and passing defense.
“Everyone keeps saying, ‘It's our chance to step up,' ” Heyward-Bey said. “But we've been stepping up all year. We've been coming to work every day ready to go, so for us to think any different I think is crazy.”
Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards — by far the most Denver allowed to any individual this season — in a Dec. 20 Steelers victory at Heinz Field. He is the first player in NFL history to have consecutive 125-plus catch seasons, and his 262 receptions since 2013 are the most in a three-season span.
“He's a great player. We get a lot of balls to him,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “So you are always going to miss somebody like that.”
Williams will miss his second consecutive postseason game with an injury to his right foot. He remained in a walking boot Friday and has not practiced since suffering the injury in a Jan. 3 game.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.