By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice Thursday afternoon, but is still showing signs that he is working his way back into shape as far as his arm strength goes.
While he was sharp on the short and intermediate routes, Roethlieberger’s arm lacked some long-ball zip again Thursday, as one bomb was picked off by cornerback Roy Lewis, while another fell harmlessly short of the receiver and defensive back.
After practice, Roethlisberger was carted up the hill with several ice bags wrapped to his shoulder.
“Ben’s getting better, but we all are,” veteran quarterback Charlie Batch said. “I know I’m still shaking off the rust from last season, but we’re coming along little by little. It’s a process, as they say.”
There was one drill where Roethlisberger displayed his accuracy. The Steelers linebackers covered the backs and tight ends off the line, and inside linebacker James Farrior let tight end Heath Miller get behind him.
Roethlisberger fired down the middle to Miller, who made an over-the-shoulder grab. The only unknown is whether or not he would have broken tackles by the DBs for a 50-yard gain instead of a 25-yarder.
Batch and second-year pro Dennis Dixon were the primary quarterbacks for the two-minute, hurry-up drill, and each had some success.
“We’re growing, as far as situational football goes,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Two-minute scenarios, the game within the game, some of those things are what we were able to address offensively and defensively.
“And we added the element of the officials, because we do acknowledge that it is an element of the game. We know that we do have to play within the rules, so that was good. … We wanted to bring everybody back inside the lines.”
Roethlisberger’s biggest target when he was at the controls was 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end Matt Spaeth, who might have a larger role in the passing game this season.
Fullback Carey Davis caught a short second-down pass, and then Ben hit rookie Mike Wallace with a first-down connection.
Veteran Shaun McDonald, signed as a free agent, had a nice catch across the middle. But time was running out.
So, Roethlisberger went long to wideout Limas Sweed, who
fell down with cornerback Roy Lewis in close coverage. Tight end David Johnson, the youngest player on the Steelers’ roster, caught the final pass as time ran out.
Batch found wideout Dallas Baker and tight end Dezmond Sherrod open for first-down connections on his opening two passes, but the team was out of running out of time.
Batch’s next pass was in traffic, and linebacker Keyron Fox nearly pulled in a deflection for an interception. Safety Ryan Clark popped wideout Tyler Grisham, but he held on.
The drive continued with Batch sticking one between defenders to find Limas Sweed open for the first down, but a rolling clock ticked down.
A shovel pass to tailback Justin Vincent got it down to 28 seconds, and after a bullet to Baker Batch had to spike the ball.
With 13 seconds remaining from the 12, outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons jumped offside.
From the 7, Batch had to scramble away from Timmons’ ferocious pass-rush and had to throw it away out the back of the end zone.
On third down with 11 seconds left, there was a bad snap and Batch’s quick pass fell incomplete.
Fourth down, the last play, and Batch drops back. Defensive end Brett Keisel stunted and broke free up the middle to knock down the pass.
Dixon went long on first down and drew a pass-interference penalty, as cornerback Keenan Lewis basically ran over wideout Mike Wallace.
So, it was first-and-goal from the 10. There was a quick handoff on first down to Isaac Redmond, and Dixon dropped into the shotgun on second down.
Dixon rolled out and threw into the end zone for Johnson, but several defenders — including safety Ryan Mundy — didn’t allow him to catch it.
Third down brought another pass, and Dixon fired for the back of the end zone where Wallace got away from Mundy.
Tomlin explained that under the new NFL rules, the defense could push the receiver out of bounds while he was in the air, and it wouldn’t be a touchdown. He has to get both feet inbounds no matter what now.
The Steelers practice twice Friday, including a night workout beginning at 7 at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.