By Christina Rivers

Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ veteran quarterback, has been making a case since suffering an MCL sprain and bone bruise to coaching staff to give him the opportunity to be around for his teammates, including Michael Vick. Vick, who entered the Steelers’ week three game in St. Louis after Roethlisberger was rolled into by a Rams defender and was forced to leave, will lead the Pittsburgh offense against AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night. Roethlisberger, never one to enjoy down time, has been actively trying to get himself off of crutches so that he can not only help in practice, but be on the sidelines during the game.

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On Tuesday, Roethlisberger told the press, “I’m trying to convince Coach (Mike) Tomlin to let me be on the sidelines. I’m still negotiating that with him. He has a no-crutch rule on the sideline, so if I can get rid of these, we will see what happens.”

Roethlisberger insisted that his desire is to be available along the sidelines with his teammates to be able to communicate with them and support them.  “I’m still going to do everything I can to be a leaders and be out there for them.  If I see something, have to talk to Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, or whoever it may be, I want to be there.  If I can help Mike (Vick) in any way, I would like to do that.”

During this week, Roethlisberger has attended meetings, but has given Vick a little space to pick up on the responsibilities of carrying the offense. “I don’t want to overwhelm him,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ll lay back unless he really needs something, but if I see something I will speak up and let him know.”  Roethlisberger stated that he believes Vick has a good grasp of the offense and that the team is likely to do as Tomlin stated earlier this week, “tweak” the play book to utilize Vick’s strengths.  “He’s got a lot of experience and a good group around him here,” Roethlisberger said.  “Everybody had to do their job, and I think we’ll be just fine.” Roethlisberger said that the quarterback room in Pittsburgh has always been a place where players at the position have communicated openly and helped one another. “Whether it was Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Tommy Maddox, Bruce Gradkowski or Landry Jones, we all communicate well together and try to help each other out…It’s not a selfish room at all.”

Vick signed with the Steelers on August 25, coming in to aid a Pittsburgh team who had watched Gradkowski suffer a shoulder injury in the preseason and Jones receive a concussion. The challenge is a big one, but Vick isn’t shying away from facing what Baltimore will have in store for him or his team. “I’ve crammed it all in the best that I can,” said Vick. “This is my fourth offense that I’ve had to learn, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I feel good and I’ve worked extremely hard to get here and prepare myself to go out there.” Vick knows he isn’t the youngest guy on the field, but that the game is not just about him. “There are a lot of great players in this locker room that are confident in the outcome…I’ll take sole responsibility of everything that happens, but I’m just going to prepare myself and get myself in the position to help this football team.”

Confidence among teammates high

The Steelers offensive line understand they will be called upon to give Vick as much help as necessary in running an efficient game plan.  Protection will be key. “We have to protect him,” said tackle Kelvin Beachum. “We have to make it as comfortable as possible, keep him as clean as possible and make it as smooth as possible so he can come in and put the ball in the right places, put people in the right position with the ball.”

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“He’s a leader and he’s been doing it for a long time,” receiver Antonio Brown said of Vick as a veteran. “We’ve got to be able to help him, catching passes, got to be able to run the ball, protect the ball and help him out.”

The Steelers defense will not change their approach, understanding that it is still their responsibility to keep the Ravens out of the end zone and flip the field so that Vick and the offense can create opportunities to put points on the scoreboard. “(Vick) has the ability to run the ball.  He has a strong arm,” said defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “All of us have faith in him, we are going to stand behind him and we believe he is going to get the job done.”

Thursday night’s primetime game will mark the 14th time these two teams have held such a meeting during the NFL regular season. The series between the two teams began in 1996 and overall, the Steelers lead in the regular season 21 games to 17, with 12 of those wins at Heinz Field. The last time the Ravens and Steelers faced each other was on November 2, 2014, in Pittsburgh where the Steelers were able to win by a score of 43 to 23.

Tomlin on Vick, Ravens

During his weekly press conference, coach Tomlin said that Vick will not be expected to execute the offense in the same manner Roethlisberger does. “Ben and Coach Haley have been together for three years now and Ben has been in Pittsburgh for over ten years, so there’s a certain comfort with that continuity…Mike is a veteran player and he’s up to speed on our large body of work. We’re going to work in his comfort zone and bring the game to him to allow him to put us in the best position to win the football game.” As for if there will be major changes due to Vick behind left-handed, particularly on the blind side of the offensive line, Tomlin said, “We will do what is appropriate…Coach Haley has to be cognizant of play-action and things of that nature. Nothing overly concerning from a protection standpoint or the utilization of people standpoint.”

Tomlin said that in preparing for the Ravens, regardless of their 0-3 record, the Steelers have to be sharp in their execution Thursday night and keep from being predictable. “It’s less about the people that we play and more about the continued growth and development…” said Tomlin. “We have to be smart about what we ask our guys to do to make sure they are playing fast and error free if we can…”

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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.