By BOB LABRIOLA
A couple of times already this season, Ben Roethlisberger has had to miss all but one day of practice because of his shoulder injury, but then he has started the game on Sunday.
Coach Mike Tomlin isn't opposed to such a scenario on an occasional basis, but he made it clear yesterday that Roethlisberger isn't going to become the next Steve McNair.
In 2006, McNair quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a division title – and earned himself a spot in the Pro Bowl along the way – despite rarely practicing more than one day a week during the bulk of the season.
Four times over the first nine weeks (the bye doesn't count), Roethlisberger has been listed on the team's injury report for that week's game, and in each of those weeks he has missed at least some practice time. But Roethlisberger has not missed a start since the 2006 season opener, and only that because of an emergency appendectomy.
"It is our intent right now that hopefully he will practice. The shoulder is what it is," said Tomlin. "It is something that he has dealt with, and that he will continue to deal with. We will see where he is when he comes in here. He comes in and spends time with the coaching staff on Tuesdays; he gets treatment and such. We will see what his availability will be for practice after that."
Roethlisberger originally was injured in the first half of the season opener, against the Texans at Heinz Field, when defensive end Mario Williams wrapped him up and slammed him shoulder-first into the ground.
The following week was one where Roethlisberger was unable to practice until Friday, but he started against the Browns and completed 12-of-19 for 186 yards, with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 113.0.
Leading up to the game against the Colts, Roethlisberger again didn't practice until Friday, and there was speculation that Byron Leftwich would start, especially after he completed 7-of-10 with a touchdown in the second half of the win over the Redskins.
But Roethlisberger started against the Colts and played the whole game. He completed 30-of-42 (71.4 percent) for 284 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
As Tomlin said, Roethlisberger has dealt with the shoulder since the opener, but the only time it forced him out of a game was for the second half against the Washington Redskins after it was re-injured during a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
"I think it's important that you practice and get physical reps," said Tomlin. "It is one of the things that we have been dealing with in regards to his situation; a little short-term misery, if you will. When people are dealing with injuries such as his, you miss practice, but they are veteran players and you get them to the stadium and you play. That is only a short-term solution. The longer that process goes on, you see issues turn up in terms of timing and cohesion. I think that is really the spot that we are in at this point."
In the team's last three games, Roethlisberger has thrown eight interceptions vs. only one touchdown pass, and he also has been sacked 10 times. Whether that has to do with the quality of the competition – New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts – or the wear-and-tear on his sore shoulder is unknown, but Tomlin appeared to be saying that the quarterback who plays on Sundays is going to be the one who is able to practice during the week.
"Ben was able to play last week because Indianapolis is a very simple team to be prepared for schematically. They don't try to trick you; what they do is what they do," said Tomlin. "If there is a game that you can go in and play on a limited number of (practice) reps, it is against a team like that. That was part of the process we went through last week. This week is a new week. Some of the things we did to get Ben ready to go were short-term answers and solutions.
"The reality is that as we go on, we recognize the value of practice and what the physical reps mean to us as an offense. We will live day-to-day and go through that process."