By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If his work during practice was in indication, Ben Roethlisberger should start at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.
Roethlisberger, who missed the past three games with a right shoulder sprain, appeared to throw the ball crisply on short and long distances alike Wednesday afternoon. And if there aren’t any setbacks, he will start at quarterback against the San Diego Chargers Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“I thought it was a positive day for Ben,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He threw the ball around both vertically and horizontally. I thought the ball had good velocity, particularly in a few instances. So, it was positive.
“Obviously, we’ll see how his body responds to it (Thursday), but I thought today was a good step. We did what we intended to do, (but) we’ll see what (Thursday) holds for us. (And) we’ll make sure that there were no steps backward (Thursday) morning.”
Tomlin noted that Roethlisberger and now 38-year-old Charlie Batch, who started the past two games, worked exclusively with the first and second units. Bryan Hoyer and Byron Leftwich handled the scout team duties. If Roethlisberger can’t play, Batch will start again.
“For me, it’s the same situation like it was last week, so I’ll prepare the same way,” Batch said. “I’ll prepare like I’m going to start. If Ben’s ready to go, then he’ll go, and I’ll go back to my previous role. I’d like to know if I’m going to be the starter, but that’s life in the NFL.”
Roethlisberger said it felt good to throw the ball around more than he did last week, and he deferred to Tomlin for the final decision on his playing status. But as far as his effectiveness was concerned, Roethlisberger said he has to talk to his good friend, tight end Heath Miller.
“Heath’s my barometer, and he lets me know how close I am with my velocity and things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s cold out there, so that doesn’t help. There’s a little bit of pain and some tightness, but I’m not worried about that feeling right now.
“I had roughly 3-4 reps each period to try to get a feel for which throws I can and can’t make. … Even if I was at 10 percent, I would tell (Tomlin) that I could go, because I want to go every week. So, he just wants to see what I can do out there to see for himself.
“I’m anxious,” Roethlisberger added. “I want to be out there, and I’ve wanted to be out there for a couple weeks now. But when it’s time, when my body says go and Coach says go, I’m going to be ready to go.”
There was a large group of players who got Wednesday off, including wideout Antonio Brown (ankle), safety Ryan Clark (hip), offensive guard Willie Colon (knee), safety Troy Polamalu (not injury related), wideout Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) and wideout Mike Wallace (knee), but all are expected to play.
Offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) and cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle) did not practice and have been ruled out this week. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle) did not practice, and he is questionable. Wideout Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), fullback Will Johnson (concussion), quarterback Byron Leftwich (ribs) and Roethlisberger all got through a complete practice Wednesday.