Steelers' Tomlin not saying if Roethlisberger will play against Lions

Published August 12, 2010

| Associated Press

Ben Roethlisberger is permitted to play in all the Pittsburgh Steelers' preseason games before his suspension begins. That doesn't mean he will.

Coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't say Thursday whether Roethlisberger will take a few snaps with the starters during Saturday night's exhibition game against the Detroit Lions — the first time the quarterback will appear before his home crowd since being suspended for six games.

"We're going to make you come to the stadium to check that out," Tomlin said.

Because the starters will play only eight to 12 plays, it is unlikely both Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich will get on the field, unless it's for a few downs apiece. Leftwich will be the starter when the season opens and Roethlisberger's suspension begins.

"I want to play — I want to be out there with the guys. I'd like to play the whole game," Roethlisberger said. "If coach says I'm not going to play, it's his call."

There has been considerable speculation how Roethlisberger will be received in Heinz Field after being accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student in March. He was not charged but was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is expected to reduce the punishment to four games before the season begins.

While numerous fans said a few months ago they were angered by his behavior and would no longer cheer for him, Roethlisberger is being treated enthusiastically by the thousands of fans who attend training camp daily. As camp progresses, more No. 7 jerseys are evident among the crowd. However, a filled stadium offers more opportunities for any displeased fans to jeer.

Is Roethlisberger nervous about his first game back, just as he was before his first practice last month?

"The fans have been awesome," he said. "I think and hope it will be awesome. ... I want to get back to Heinz, that's my home."

The Steelers could diffuse any anti-Roethlisberger sentiment by holding him out Saturday, especially since their next two preseason games will be on the road. They won't be home again until Sept. 2, the final exhibition game against Carolina in which the starters usually play only a few downs.

Leftwich senses that the fans are ready to focus on the season, so he expects Roethlisberger to be well received.

"I'm quite sure if he's out there playing, they'll welcome him," Leftwich said. "He's trying to move on. It was great the first day he came out here (at camp), seeing the cheers he got. Pittsburgh loves guys who are on their team."

So far, the Steelers have stayed with their prewritten quarterback script, which emphasizes getting Leftwich ready to start while making sure Roethlisberger gets plenty of work before he is barred from practice during his suspension.

"We started with a plan and we were very clear about that," Tomlin said. "We're going to provide Ben enough opportunities to have a productive camp and preseason and at the same time get clarity with our quarterback situation. I think we've stayed true to form thus far and we'll continue with that as we get into the game."

When they opened training camp nearly two weeks ago, Roethlisberger was the first quarterback to work with the regulars. Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians intentionally did that to emphasize that Roethlisberger is the starter, suspension or not.

"So far, so good," Tomlin said. "He's been extremely sharp and I've been pleased with how he's played the position."

Dennis Dixon, who started one game last season when Roethlisberger was hurt, is expected to play most of Saturday's game. Charlie Batch, the longtime backup who fell to No. 4 on the depth chart when Leftwich was signed, could finish up.

Maurkice Pouncey, the first-round draft pick from Florida, will take snaps at center and right guard as the Steelers try to get him comfortable with both positions. Second-round pick Jason Worilds, the outside linebacker from Virginia Tech, probably won't play after missing practice time with a sore hamstring.

Two rookie wide receivers will get tryouts as returners, Emmanuel Sanders on kickoffs and Antonio Brown on punts.

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