Pittsburgh Steelers Pool Report
Thursday, January 29, 2009
By Peter King
Pro Football Writers of America
TAMPA--Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger practiced effectively but at times appeared to be trying to stretch his mid-torso region during the team's second full Super Bowl week practice session, held mostly in the rain at the University of South Florida Thursday afternoon.
Access to players is restricted to the Pro Football Writers of America's pool reporter at pre-Super Bowl practice sessions, but coach MIke Tomlin denied a Profootballtalk.com report that Roethlisberger has undergone X-rays on his back this week. "Not that I heard,'' said Tomlin, who then asked Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett if he knew of any X-rays on Roethlisberger. Lockett said no. Then Tomlin said: "Ben's health is often the subject of inaccurate reports. He's fine.''
Roethlisberger, 26, was speared in the rib/back area during the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore 11 days ago and did not come out of the game, but backup Byron Leftwich hurriedly warmed up in case he was needed. He said after the championship game he was fine, and nothing had surfaced about his mid-torso till Thursday's report. He threw the ball well on short and deep routes in Thursday's practice--including a 40-yard bullet up the20right seam to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and several sharp throws to rehabbing receiver Hines Ward--even during steady rain.
Ward, who suffered a strained right knee ligament in the title game, practiced for the first time since the knee was wrenched on a first-quarter tackle against Baltimore. Although he ran at perhaps three-quarters speed, he worked with the regular offense and blocked and caught the ball in midseason form. Tomlin said Ward looked "awesome'' and reiterated what he has been saying for the past week: Ward will certainly play Sunday against the Cardinals. "He is where I thought he would be today,'' Tomlin said.
The Steelers practiced for one hour and 55 minutes on USF's two football practice field north of downtown Tampa. The practice began at 1:30 p.m., under threatening skies, and at 2:07, with skies nearly blackened, the rain began. It was a deluge for about 20 minutes and continued for 45 minutes, stopped for a short time, then resumed lightly for about the last 20 minutes of practice. Tomlin said at the start of practice it would not rain, and when it was coming down in buckets, Holmes and Ward chided Tomlin, who lived in Tampa for five years while as assistant coach with the Buccaneers, about being unable to predict the weather in his former neighborhood.
"Much like a lot o f our games,'' Tomlin said, "we had adversity today. Things very rarely go smoothly for 60 minutes in a game, and they didn't go smoothly today with the rain. But we got our work done. This is a mentally tough group that smiles in the face of adversity.''
Despite the rain, the Steelers went through their normal Thursday routine, which is heavy on the starting offense and defense working against the scout teams and on red-zone work. Roethlisberger moved the offense well, finding Holmes and Ward consistently. And on defense, Pittsburgh got a heavy dose of backup quarterback Byron Leftwich imitating Kurt Warner, with practice-squad receiver Dallas Baker playing Larry Fitzgerald. Baker, a seventh-round pick of the Steelers from Florida in 2007, is 6-3, as is Fitzgerald, but at 206 pounds is 20 pounds lighter than the Cardinals' receiver he was imitating. Leftwich threw three interceptions--two to cornerback Ike Taylor--while the Steeler defense was on the field, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tomlin thought his defense practiced well.
"We're getting a great look from our scout teams, and we have all year,'' said Tomlin. "I can't say enough about the quality of work we're getting from Byron Leftwich, who has been fantastic all season imitating the other quarterback. He's giving our defense a good look at how Kurt Warner plays.''
The Steelers will resume practice with a normal Friday session at USF at 11 a.m., and close out preparations for Sunday's game with a short walk-through practice Saturday, also at USF, at 10 a.m.