By BOB LABRIOLA
It doesn't qualify as a quarterback controversy, certainly not with Ben Roethlisberger on the roster. But in a town where an ice bag taped to his ankle toward the end of a training camp practice once convinced a local television station to break into its regularly scheduled broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show to get that "news" on the air first, Roethlisberger's health is a headline.
That's what brought the minicams and microphones to Mike Tomlin's regularly scheduled news conference today, and what he said had to calm Steelers Nation somewhat.
"Ben sustained a concussion in the game, and here's some background as to what has happened with him after that," said Tomlin. "On Monday morning, he took a battery of neurological tests done with our medical staff. He was asymptomatic, he was fine, he passed all those tests. He felt fine.
"Given that information, we can anticipate him practicing and preparing to play this week, provided he remains symptom-free and he remains feeling fine. I met with Ben (Monday). He felt normal. He felt fine. The battery of tests he took showed that he had no symptoms. We'll continue to monitor his condition on a day-to-day basis and let that guide our decision-making. As I sit here today, he's symptom-free and feeling fine, so we should anticipate Ben practicing (Wednesday)."
The news was not so good on backup quarterback Charlie Batch, but in another way it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
"He sustained a break in his (left) wrist area, and he's going to have surgery Wednesday morning," said Tomlin. "They're going to insert a plate in his wrist, and he's going to be down anywhere from two-to-four weeks based on the outcome of the surgery."
As for Batch, Tomlin said he anticipates holding a roster spot open for his veteran backup quarterback, pending the outcome of the surgery. There were some early guesses that Batch could miss six weeks, and that might have tempted Tomlin to consider placing him on the injured reserve list.
"What we're going to do at this point is sign a practice squad eligible quarterback to provide an arm in preparation for the Ravens in terms of practice," said Tomlin, who admitted the team had a candidate but any announcement would be delayed until that player passed his physical. "As far as playing in the game, we're simply going to go with Ben – provided he remains symptom-free – and of course, Dennis Dixon."
Roethlisberger was injured during overtime of last Sunday's loss in Kansas City. On a second-and-3 from the Chiefs 49-yard line, Roethlisberger was sacked by Derrick Johnson and Andy Studebaker, and in the process it appeared as though Johnson's knee inadvertently made contact with the quarterback's helmet.
"It could be characterized as a mild concussion, but I hesitate to use the word 'mild' because concussions are not anything to be taken mildly," said Tomlin. "He was symptomatic at the game … and when we were able to do appropriate testing (Monday), he was symptom-free and feeling fine. We're proceeding with caution, but we'll continue to monitor him each and every day pushing forward, because if any symptoms re-occur, or he feels less than fine, we're going to act appropriately."
That appropriate action, according to Tomlin, would be to start Dixon against the Ravens and then change from signing a practice squad quarterback to someone who would be able to serve as a backup and possibly play in Baltimore.
In 2006, Roethlisberger sustained a concussion in a loss to Atlanta on Oct. 22, and then he started the following Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland. Though he had been cleared medically, Roethlisberger threw four interceptions and was sacked five times in a 20-13 loss.
Tomlin made it clear that Roethlisberger's opinion of whether he should play vs. the Ravens won't mean much.
"I'm not acting on Ben convincing me of anything," said Tomlin. "We have independent medical experts – Dr. (Joseph) Maroon and company – who are recognized internationally. People in our business, in this league, fly players in from other cities to see those men. We listen to them, first and foremost. We have a great deal of confidence and comfort in their expertise, and at this point they're comfortable in saying Ben is symptom-free. That will be of the utmost importance in determining how Ben is capable of participating leading up to this game, and then in this game."
Even if Roethlisberger practices Wednesday as scheduled, Tomlin said the doctors will continue the process of evaluating him medically every day this week leading up to the game in Baltimore.
During any other week, Troy Polamalu's knee injury would have been a hot topic at a Tomlin news conference, but this time not a single question was asked about it. Tomlin characterized his All-Pro safety as "questionable at best" for the Ravens.
Tomlin also said starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu will not play in Baltimore because of an MCL sprain, and he will be replaced by rookie Ramon Foster.