PITTSBURGH — Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and strong safety Troy Polamalu practiced Saturday for the first time this week and are expected to play when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the San Francisco 49ers Monday night at 8:30 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif.
Roethlisberger (left high-ankle sprain) is listed as questionable on the club’s final practice report, while Polamalu (right hamstring) was probable. Center Maurkice Pouncey (left high-ankle sprain) was listed as out this week. Doug Legursky gets the start at center, while Trai Essex opens at his left guard spot.
“Ben looked pretty good out there today,” right offensive guard Ramon Foster said.
“He didn’t move around too much, but he threw the ball all right and wasn’t limping too bad. So, I could see him playing against the 49ers.
“I guess we won’t know for sure for a couple days, maybe not until we get out there, but with a late Monday night game and two more days to rest and rehab I think he’ll be all right to play. And I certainly wouldn’t bet against him.”
Along with Pouncey, rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) and second-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders (right foot sprain) are out. Right offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (illness) also is probable, with Polamalu, while wideout Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and cornerback Curtis Brown (knee) are questionable.
Polamalu was extremely polite and apologetic while directing all injury questions to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, but he also acknowledged that it was a good sign that he could at least get on the field for practice Saturday.
“It’s obviously helpful that we’ve had a longer week to prepare and for me to rehab,” Polamalu said. “I was able to rehab all week, and I’m glad that I was able to get out there for a practice with the extra day. But I really can’t comment specifically on my injury status. We also have a short week after this.
“So, we’ll see what Coach has to say about it. As far as practicing versus rest, I guess that would depend on where somebody is in their career. The younger you are, I would think the more repetitions you got the better that you’d be. But obviously, I need a lot of repetitions and wasn’t able to get those this week.”
Including the game against the Niners, the Steelers have three games remaining with one also at home against the St. Louis Rams Saturday at 1 p.m. and New Year’s Day at 1 p.m. at Cleveland. Polamalu was inactive for two season-ending games due to an Achilles injury, but he played the regular-season finale at Cleveland and did not miss a playoff game or the Super Bowl despite limitations.
Some believe the Steelers should rest all three of their top injured players, Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Pouncey, but there’s still an outside chance that the club could win its division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens, at San Diego this week, would have to lose at least one game, while the Steelers would need to win all three remaining contests.
“In the NFL today, it’s always a week-to-week thing, and you can’t look ahead too much to the next week or know how your body is going to feel in the next week or two,” Polamalu said. “As players, we have to concentrate on the present. If we can play without doing more harm, then we play.
“But if we need more time off, then we have to take it. The more rest you can get and getting that bye, it’s a big deal. But we’ve done it both ways. We’ve gone to the Super Bowl as a top seed, and we have made it and won it as a wild-card team. So, there’s precedent set for both ways.”
Notes: Polamalu said that every time he returns to the West Coast for a game, he is deluged with ticket requests. This week’s number has reached 40, but he has one stipulation. “I will never get a ticket for somebody that roots for another team,” Polamalu said. … OLB LaMarr Woodley said he’s feeling better than he has in weeks, and added “I’ll get my chance out there on Monday.”