PITTSBURGH (AP) — These might be the most-scrutinized May practices in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
The team resumed its voluntary offseason workouts on Tuesday without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He remains banned from attending, and there is no indication when the NFL will allow him to participate.
"I'm waiting for word from New York like everyone else," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm not going to speculate until I get that word."
For now, Roethlisberger can only join his teammates on the golf course and played a charity event with them on Monday.
The Steelers aren't certain if the league will allow Roethlisberger to attend any of the remaining 11 spring practices, which run each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through June 10.
On April 21, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the two-time Super Bowl winner for the first six games of the season and also ordered him to undergo a behavioral evaluation following a March incident in which a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. The case will not be prosecuted.
In Roethlisberger's absence, Byron Leftwich took most of the snaps with the starters, just as he has since being reacquired by Pittsburgh in a trade with Tampa Bay last month. Leftwich was the backup when the Steelers won the Super Bowl 15 months ago.
There's no sign from Tomlin that Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon will get similar work with the regulars. Tomlin promises only that there will be a clearly defined depth chart when training camp begins.
"I don't believe it's an effective approach to go into camp with a pure, open quarterback competition, if you will, a three-headed quarterback battle," Tomlin said. "We'll go in with a pecking order, and the opportunity to show what you're capable of will be based on that pecking order. All three guys will be given an opportunity but not an equal opportunity."
Training camp will be unique because the Steelers will have two starting quarterbacks to prepare — someone for the first six games and Roethlisberger. By giving so much time to one quarterback, the Steelers are trying to prevent a significant drop-off in timing, execution or consistency when Roethlisberger isn't in charge.
"Ben's been in that huddle a long time now," Leftwich said. "He's been that guy for a long time. But the circumstances that exist, someone has to be in there, so I'm going to work my tail off and try to be the guy. He's going to miss those games, and someone's going to have to play. My mindset is I'm the guy, that we don't miss a beat."
With the Steelers coming off a 9-7 season in which they were good at the start, good at the finish and mystifyingly bad during the middle, they want to get off to a good start and put 2009 behind them as quickly as possible.
To Leftwich, that's why these seemingly routine-as-it-gets May practices are important.
"Especially for a lot of the guys Ben has played with a lot of years, there's chemistry there," Leftwich said. "That's why it's important for the guys that's here to come in and don't miss a beat. That's our whole plan, to get into the huddle, command the huddle."
Ben or no Ben.
"It's hard to go into a season without your star quarterback," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who didn't practice Tuesday because of a sore hamstring. "Our motto is not going to change; our mentality is not going to change. We've got one goal, and that's to try to win. The guys who are here now, that's what we're trying to do."