Ben Roethlisberger returns to Steelers practice
The unanimous consensus among the members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who spoke after practice Friday was that Ben Roethlisberger would be playing come Sunday at Heinz Field.
“‘Seven’ will be ready,” running back Steven Ridley said. “For sure. We ain’t worried about Ben.”
Maybe there aren’t doubts among Roethlisberger’s teammates that he’ll play in the Steelers’ home opener against the Chiefs. But will he be at his best?
Is the elbow that was injured when the Browns’ Genard Avery strip-sacked him late in last weekend’s 21-21 tie at Cleveland allow Roethlisberger to be anywhere close to 100 percent?
That’s a more pertinent question.
“He didn’t have his normal zip,” receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said of Roethlisberger’s passes during practice Friday. “But it was his first day back. (He’s) taking it slow, taking it easy, getting back into the flow of it.
“But he’s not out there zipping it how he’s supposed to be if he was practicing this whole time.”
After sitting out Wednesday and Thursday practices, Roethlisberger was back in a full capacity Friday, going through his normal routine with the first-team offense, Smith-Schuster said.
That allayed fears among teammates that he might miss a game because of injury for only the third time since mid-2015, because typically under coach Mike Tomlin players who do not practice Friday are kept out of Sunday games.
“He was taking it slow, getting back into it,” Smith-Schuster said. “…But eventually, it’s game day, it’s game-time, you’re going to be out there playing with your boys. I think that’s what he’s going to do.”
On the Steelers’ official injury report, Roethlisberger was listed as questionable to play against the Chiefs.
“He’s a tough guy; we are never really worried about him,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “All the time, he takes some big hits in the game, (so) if he wants to sit out a couple days, he’s totally fine.”
Roethlisberger took some big hits during this past Sunday’s 21-21 tie at Cleveland, when he was sacked four times in a game for the first time since Sept. 25, 2016. His elbow was injured on the second-to-last offensive play late in overtime when the Browns’ Genard Avery strip-sacked him.
Roethlisberger said Wednesday morning it was “just… a bruise; it will be fine.” He declined to comment Friday.
But as receiver Antonio Brown put it, seeming to sum up the feeling of Roethlisberger’s teammates in regards to the official designation of questionable: “Ben is the best in the world; I don’t know why you guys seem to doubt him.”
After playing a full 16-game schedule just once over his first nine seasons, Roethlisberger has stayed relatively healthy since 2013, missing just five starts because of injury over the past five-plus seasons.
Landry Jones or Mike Vick started those games in his place, but this season the Steelers do not have a reliable veteran backup. Neither of the other two quarterbacks on the roster (Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolphh) have appeared in a regular-season NFL game.
Dobbs surprisingly won the No. 2 quarterback job during his second NFL training camp last month. He would start if Roethlisberger cannot play.
But his receivers on Friday weren’t even allowing themselves to entertain the suggestion that Dobbs would be throwing to them in the game Sunday.
Brown outright dismissed it: “We are worrying about Ben right now.”
Denial? The Steelers say they’ve seen Roethlisberger play despite an injury too many times to believe he won’t this time.
“Yeah, he didn’t practice, but he will go out there and play,” Smith-Schuster said. “He’s been doing it, what, 15 years? I mean his whole life, honestly. You see how big he is, how tough he is. It’s nothing new.
“He’s a tough dude, man.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.