By Christina Rivers

Week 4 was already slated to be a test of will for the Pittsburgh Steelers against AFC North division rival Baltimore before Ben Roethlisberger suffered an MCL sprain and bone bruise. During their primetime showdown on Thursday night, the Steelers will take the field with Michael Vick as their starting quarterback and are looking to have a few other roster adjustments due to a handful of injuries to several players.

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On Monday, a handful of players were unable to participate in practice, including: cornerback Cortez Allen (knee), linebacker James Harrison (thumb), defensive tackle Daniel McCullers (knee), linebacker Ryan Shazier (shoulder) and tight end Matt Spaeth (hand). Head coach Mike Tomlin touched on the injuries in his weekly press conference.

“I’ve been following the guideline of those that practice and perform at practice get an opportunity to play,” said Tomlin. “(Allen) hasn’t been able to practice fully over the course of the last several weeks, so I have chose to play other guys.” Harrison’s thumb injury wasn’t bad enough to keep him out of practice past Monday. Tomlin expected with Spaeth requiring a cast be placed on his fractured hand that his availability on Thursday may be affected.

A ton of focus will fall on Vick to step in at the quarterback position. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley spoke with the media on Tuesday to some length about the necessary change due to Roethlisberger being out for an undefined period of time. “This is going to be his first time getting a lot of reps for us, as he gets a grasp of the entire game plan,” Haley said of Vick. “That’s a big job, but he obviously is prepared…He is not just stepping in and doing what (Roethlisberger) did, so to speak. He is going to be doing what gives Mike Vick the best chance to help us succeed.” The short week admittedly forced Vick and the coaching staff to focus even more on individual preparation at that particular position, but Haley said that every week players and staff have to be on their toes. When asked if he told Vick not to get hit under any circumstances, Haley responded, “I told him to win under any circumstances.”

 “It’s a short week, but we’re all professionals,” said Vick. “We know what a short week entails. We know what we have to do. You just have to grind.”

Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell have made a nice tandem the past two games in place of Allen at right corner, making Allen fall deeper into the depth chart. It isn’t the ideal placement for a player that was expected to do so much for the team only to falter both this season and last after being given a contract extension by the Steelers.

Cockrell’s willingness to step up is something that hasn’t been lost on defensive coordinator Keith Butler. “When (Cockrell) came in, the first thing he did was he started going over and covering Antonio Brown all the time. That’s a good way to make yourself better,” said Butler on Tuesday. “I was impressed by it, because he has enough confidence to say ‘I am going to try to cover one of the best wide receivers in the league’. He’s done a good job with it. He’s played well for us.”

As for this week being all about the rivalry, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who Butler praised as being the type of player who has consistently improved, said that preparing started as soon as the week three game against the Rams ended. “We started talking about (the Ravens) right away. I know from playing them three times last year the pressure is on,” Tuitt said. “Both of these teams want to beat the crap out of each other. You want to create a dominance over the other one for the division…it’s Thursday Night Football with all eyes on the game.”

Fantasy outlook

If you’re one of those fantasy players that happened to pick up Vick as a second quarterback in your league, or immediately grabbed him when Roethlisberger was a sure scratch, you may end up looking like the smartest coach in your fantasy league. It depends on his level of production against the Ravens, but Vick is a decent starter to have for week four, especially if you play in a two QB league. Antonio Brown will get plenty of targets this week and his streak of consecutive games of at least five catches for fifth yards makes it hard not to play him if he is on your roster. Le’Veon Bell should bounce back this week as the Steelers use the ground game to create passing opportunities. The Steelers defense is a wait-and-see, last minute decision this week unless you have no other option.

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Injury Recap

Out

Ben Roethlisberger (QB – knee)

Daniel McCullers (DT- knee)

Ryan Shazier (ILB – shoulder)

Matt Spaeth (TE – hand)

Questionable

Cortez Allen (CB – knee)

Probable

James Harrison (LB – thumb)

Cody Wallace (C – illness)

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.