By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It was only a mini-camp practice, but the Pittsburgh Steelers began working out Friday without Ben Roethlisberger leading their offense.
The sixth-year quarterback is banned from the practice facility until he is cleared by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Roethlisberger is under a microscope and must pass various tests before he is reinstated. If he passes, then he can take part in summer training camp.
Once the season begins, Roethlisberger will be banned again for 4-6 games, depending on how things go from now until then. Eight-year veteran Byron Leftwich, Roethlisberger’s backup during the 2008 Super Bowl run, ran the first team during the Steelers’ opening mini-camp practice. But he didn’t want to discuss his status.
“That’s really not a question to ask me,” Leftwich said. “You’ll have to ask the guys upstairs. But like I told you before, I’m not worried about that. I just want to make the most out of every rep that I get and try to make something happen. … I pretty much know the system.
“It’s not brand new to me. They know what I can do as a player. They know my strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll make the decision when the time is right. Right now, it doesn’t even matter. I understand the process, and I just want to make the best of it.”
Veteran wideout Hines Ward noted that while a suspension was justified and the entire situation certainly was disappointing to hear about, he did not believe Roethlisberger would need to win back his teammates along with the football games upon his return.
“They ruled on the suspension, and it is what it is,” Ward said. “It’s 4-6 games, depending on the outcome, and who knows? I’m not a fortune teller. But we’re going to welcome him back. Life is all about trials and tribulations. Everybody has been through some type of adversity during their lifetime, and that’s what is so special about football.
“You can use it to get away from your problems and get out there on the field. You can leave all your baggage at home, so … we’ll welcome him back with open arms. He’s still our quarterback, and he won’t have to win over anybody. It’s disappointing, (but) to each his own. I can’t control what another man does, but it’s disappointing. There’s no question about that. But it is what it is.”
And the Steelers are moving forward without their two-time Super Bowl quarterback for now. But nose tackle Casey Hampton did not believe the club should have traded Roethlisberger or cut him since “he helps us win football games, and in the end that’s what it’s all about.”
Hampton added that the same fans who want to cut him will be cheering Roethlisberger on if he takes the team to the Super Bowl. But until he returns from the 4-6 game suspension, the Steelers have to pull together.
“Some other guys just have to do the job,” Hampton said. “That’s the way I look at it. He made some bad decisions, but everybody does that. The biggest thing Ben does is win games on Sundays. And anybody who helps us win is going to be welcomed back.
“People can say this and that, but if he comes back and we win it’s going to be ‘Ben’s great again.’ If he loses, then he’ll be on the way out. I definitely know that he comes in and does what he can do, he’s definitely going to win games for us. So, it’s not going to be a big deal. I know Ben isn’t a bad guy.
“He did some things and made some mistakes,” Hampton added, “but he hasn’t been convicted of (crap). And only one person can judge him. That’s God, and I don’t want to judge anybody. The cops said he didn’t do it, so in my mind he didn’t do it. (And) I feel like a man should never be judged like that.”
Apparently Commissioner Goodell does not feel the same way.