They can only wonder what kind of shape they’ll be in when Roethlisberger returns to the field in October.
While the starters usually play only a couple of series in the final exhibition game, Roethlisberger is lobbying to take snaps in the no-huddle offense Thursday night against Carolina. New center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Flozell Adams haven’t worked with Roethlisberger out of that formation except during practice, and the quarterback doesn’t want to wait until the games count before getting in the work.
Especially since Roethlisberger will miss at least four of those games.
“We have new guys, so I think it will be good if we can hopefully get it in and do that,” Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger’s brief time under center will come only a few hours before he travels to New York on Friday to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There is every indication Goodell will shorten the quarterback’s suspension for bad behavior from six to four games, but the Steelers are taking a low-key approach and aren’t publicly lobbying on Roethlisberger’s behalf.
The Steelers were encouraged last month when Goodell said Roethlisberger was going “above and beyond” what the league has asked him to do since the two-time Super Bowl winner was accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. The quarterback has stayed out of trouble since the March incident, and he spent considerable time during training camp interacting with the team’s fans.
The big question, of course, is what the Steelers will do without their $102 million quarterback. They open at home against Atlanta on Sept. 12, then play Tennessee and Tampa Bay on the road and Baltimore at home. It’s a challenging schedule, but not an exceedingly demanding for a team that started 6-2 each of the last two seasons.
For now, coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t officially named Byron Leftwich as his season-opening starter, although that has been seen as a mere formality since Leftwich returned to Pittsburgh in an April trade. Veteran backup Charlie Batch has gotten little work during camp or in the preseason, and third-year QB Dennis Dixon threw two interceptions during a brief and unimpressive audition with the starters Sunday during a 34-17 loss in Denver.
While Batch showed his first glimpse of unhappiness at being the left-out quarterback while talking with reporters on Tuesday, Roethlisberger thinks all four QBs have handled the unique situation well.
“I think everybody has done a great job,” Roethlisberger said. “I think everyone is looking pretty good. Everyone is a professional in the group and everyone is ready to go.”
If Roethlisberger gets all the playing time with the starters Thursday, Leftwich could find himself playing with backups for the second game in a row. That’s not an ideal situation for the man who is expected to be the opening day starter, but Leftwich isn’t complaining.
“To be honest, we’d all love to play, but it’s a unique situation that we’re in,” he said.
As usual, the last preseason game will be exactly that for nearly two dozen players _ their last game. The Steelers must cut their roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday.
Among those looking to make a lasting impression are running back Jonathan Dwyer, a disappointment during camp before he ran for 89 yards and a touchdown in Denver; cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was yanked by Tomlin after drawing two personal foul penalties against the Broncos; and cornerback William Gay, a starter last season who is trying to beat out Bryant McFadden to keep his job.