By Christina Rivers
Week 14 is upon us and the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) are fine tuning their team for readiness when they host the San Diego Chargers (4-8) Sunday night at Heinz Field. The word that Steelers fans have been waiting to hear is whether or not quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be under center, his first start since the November 12 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he injured his SC joint and rib on his right side. Head Coach has been openly optimistic, but also guarded as to how much information he would give out until any final decisions are made on Friday.
Roethlisberger’s condition was brought up on Monday, to which Tomlin said, “[Ben] threw…and I guess it could be described as successfully…He will be given an opportunity to prove that he is healthy and we will let that progress go from there.” Tomlin’s plans have been to give Charlie Batch the start against the Chargers, saying that the team will “prepare and plan with that in mind.” Following Wednesday’s practice, Coach Tomlin again met with the press who wanted to know every bit of detail about Roethlisberger’s status. Tomlin was a bit coy in his responses. “I thought it was a positive day for Ben. He threw the ball around both vertically and horizontally…Obviously, we’ll see how his body responds to it (on Thursday). We did what we intended to do and worked him and Charlie exclusively, and Brian [Hoyer] and Byron [Leftwich] handled the scout team.”
Coach Tomlin refuted the idea that he determines the outcome of Roethlisberger’s start by saying, “It’s not about what I like. It’s about what it is we need to do, and we’ve made decisions up to the 11th hour in the past. I don’t think that this would be a situation where that will be something that we’ll be doing, based on what I saw today.” After a barrage of similar questions, Tomlin said that the Steelers would practice with the understanding that it could be Batch or Roethlisberger as the starter and would not deviate from their game plan for the Chargers.
Offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) will be on the ‘did not participate’ list this week, opening the way for rookie Kelvin Beachum to again take his spot. With guard Willie Colon still hampered by a knee injury, he did not practice on Wednesday but is expected to see limited practice the remainder of the week if the knee holds.
Some surprising non-participants in Wednesday’s practice were: WR Antonio Brown (ankle), FS Ryan Clark (hip), SS Troy Polamalu (non-injury related) and WR Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder). Some of these players likely were bruised and banged up against the Ravens last Sunday and needed an extra day to get back to 100 percent. Sanders suffered an AC sprain to his shoulder and it is not clear how much he will be able to practice at this time. Wallace has inflammation in his knee. Both Wallace and Sanders are expected to play on Sunday. Fullback Will Johnson suffered a concussion, but was able to participate fully in practice on Wednesday after going through the necessary battery of tests. OLB LaMarr Woodley did not participate Wednesday and is still undergoing rehabilitation on his ankle. Jason Worilds will most likely take his place on Sunday if Woodley doesn’t progress this week in practice.
Ike Taylor hasn’t and most likely will not participate in any practices this week as it was discovered after the Ravens game that he has a hairline fracture in his right ankle; his season may be done. In his place, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown will step in with Brown being inserted into the defensive sub-packages. Allen was excited by the news that he would get the start against San Diego. He told the press that he realized that he had some good plays and some not so good ones against the Ravens.
“Obviously, there are some things to learn from after going back and watching the film,” said Allen. “I’ll make my corrections and work at it in practice and be ready for the [Chargers].” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco targeted Allen several times last weekend after Taylor came out of the game. Allen said he expected teams to do this to him. “They’re going to try to go at me. I’m prepared for it. It’s something that you always have to be ready for, every down that you play…I accept that challenge.”
After being named the starter at running back last week, Jonathan Dwyer is ready to maintain a rhythm that keeps the Steelers’ offense moving forward. He said that his approach to preparing for the Chargers without knowing who will start at quarterback has no bearing on his, or the team’s, preparations. “We practice the same and we play the same. We have the same game plan, we just don’t know who is going to be calling the plays and throwing the ball. Other than that, we’re going to play the same way we know how to play and we’ll adjust to whoever the quarterback is.”
Batch is preparing much in the same manner. He realizes that he may not be the starter against San Diego, but he said that his role is to prepare as if he was the starter.
“[I] always want to play but my role is the backup. So, if [Roethlisberger]‘s ready to play, you can’t be sad about that. All I do is go out there, and if I’m called upon, do my job.” When asked about what he’s seen from the Chargers, Batch said, “They are very tough. Their defense is solid and they’ve been playing solid the entire year. Two weeks ago they had Baltimore on the ropes and gave up a fourth-and-29 play before they ultimately lost that football game. We can’t take anything for granted. We know they’re going to be tough coming in here and we need to expect their best, which we know we’re going to get.”
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.