By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With one remaining before the Pittsburgh Steelers wrap up their practice sessions for the regular-season finale Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at Cleveland, center Maurkice Pouncey, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wideout Emmanuel Sanders are much closer to playing.
All three went through a second straight full practice Thursday and just have to finish strong this week. Strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, so his status will be determined after Friday’s workout. And outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis both days, so he likely will not play unless he can get a full workout in Friday.
“We’re just trying to take it one day at a time,” Roethlisberger said Thursday after practice. “We’ll see how tomorrow goes and keep plugging away.”
Roethlisberger added that his ankle was a little sore Thursday after the most intense workout since playing in the game at San Francisco Dec. 19. Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believed that Roethlisberger held up real well after two practices and added that he was much more confident that the quarterback would play this week.
“He moved around good today, a little better than yesterday, but I think being on the grass helped,” Arians said. “Being on the turf (Wednesday indoors) was different, so it was good to be outside in the cold and on the grass. It really got the blood flowing, so it was good.”
When asked if the Steelers had a plan for Roethlisberger this week, Arians said the team wanted to beat the Browns, and “then we’ll sit back and see what happens.” He believed Roethlisberger could be OK in the post-season if he doesn’t play in a second straight game, but he wants the quarterback to play.
“I think Ben is veteran enough to do it, but you’d like to have everybody out there because of the value of the game,” Arians said. “You want all your best players out there playing well, and he’s certainly one of them.
“So, I want him out there, but not at the risk of injuring himself. If he can’t move around and get out of the way, there’s no sense in putting him out there. So, we’ll play him if he’s healthy and ready to go.”
The main things Arians and the Steelers will be watching with Roethlisberger are his mechanics, whether he can move well enough in and out of the pocket and if he can follow through on his passes.
“The balls that were intercepted in San Francisco were strictly because of the foot,” Arians said. “The overthrow was because of the foot when we missed one deep. But I think he has a better feel for it. We did some drills, and he’s been much better this week.”
“If you can’t get up on your toes, you can’t play. Especially with your plant foot. You have to be able to twist it and turn it and get up on it to throw the ball. And he’s doing everything he can to play. He really wants to play.”
It appears that Trai Essex will start at left offensive guard this week, as long as Pouncey plays center. Doug Legursky (shoulder) has not practiced this week, and he is out along with running back Mewelde Moore (left knee). However, Arians would not rule out Chris Kemoeatu also playing against the Browns.
“We’re going to swing guys and see how we do,” Arians said. “We were going to swing them last week, but with the injury (to Legursky and Pouncey), Chris played the whole game and played really well. So, he looks healthy again.”
Even though he said he would have voted for “Hines or Big Ben,” James Farrior was an overwhelming choice by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America for the Steelers’ annual Chief Award, established in honor of the team’s founder, Arthur J. Rooney Sr. as the player who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media.
“I want to thank you guys for this award,” Farrior said. “It’s definitely something I appreciate and definitely a big honor for me, so thanks to you guys. And a big ups to the Chief. We’re accommodating because I think it’s a respect factor for you guys. We know that you have to do a story, and you have to be in the locker room. It’s also something that we really can’t avoid.
“So, not being discouraging or not being available are things that we don’t do. We try to make it pleasing for everyone. It’s most difficult after losing a game, your emotions are running high and you really don’t know what to say to the media and everybody’s in your face asking you questions. But it’s part of being a professional and part of being a Steeler.”
Farrior said he’s still thinking about football, so he doesn’t have any thoughts about going into the media in the future.
“Dick LeBeau told me a long time ago that when you retire, you retire for a long time,” Farrior said. “So, you definitely want to think about it if you’re going to make that decision at some point. So, if it’s weighing on your mind, you want to give it a lot of thought. And what I took from that was that you should play as long as you can. (But) I’ll play as long as they let me.”
The Steelers annual rookie of the year honor, the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, also was voted on by the sports writers. Marcus Gilbert was the unanimous and obvious choice.
“It’s an honor to receive such a great award, named after Joe Greene, and for all the guys who won this before me,” Gilbert said. “It’s also an honor just to be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and happy to get an opportunity to go out there and play for the best organization in the NFL.
“My number was called pretty early, but all I tried to do was perform to the best of my abilities. I know that the standard is the standard, and things got steadily better for me this season. I just hope to continue to improve and play at a high level in the future for the Steelers, because I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Even though Mean Joe Greene retired long before Gilbert was born, the Steelers current right tackle is well aware of the award’s namesake.
“He was one of my dad’s favorite football players,” Gilbert said. “I got to meet him my first official visit, pre-draft. I ate lunch with him, and that was cool. My dad looked up to him, and he used to tell me about him and the Coke commercial. So, it was just an honor to sit down with a legend and probably the best football player to ever play for this organization.
“He told me what the Steelers were all about, and I got to see it for myself after I got drafted by them. I didn’t get an autograph for my dad, because I was cutting it close with my meetings. But I took a picture with him, so it was a good deal.”
Gilbert noted that the Steelers have talked a bit about him possibly playing left tackle in the future, but for now he’s concentrating on right tackle and playing it well against the Cleveland Browns.
Linebacker James Harrison (neck) and wideout Mike Wallace (ankle) returned to practice Thursday and got through a full workout for the Steelers.
The Browns practiced Thursday without QB Colt McCoy (concussion), WR Jordan Norwood (concussion) and OT Tony Pashos (ankle, illness). Those limited for the Browns included RB Peyton Hillis (elbow), LB Kaluka Maiava (hand), DT Scott Paxson (hand, calf) and LB Quinton Spears (concussion). WR-KR Josh Cribbs (groin), OG Shawn Lauvao (ankle), RB Owen Marecic (ankle), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (foot) and CB Dimitri Patterson (hand) were full participants in Thursday’s practice.