Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke to his players Monday before their first spring practice that included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and a few said it became plain to them that the Steelers would have "zero tolerance" toward any more off-field shenanigans.
"We were told early this morning either you get in line or you get kicked out of line, either you'll be traded or you're not going to be here," tackle Willie Colon said as he walked off the practice field at the Steelers' training facility. "If your conduct is going to play a part of you not being a good football player or any part of this NFL, they're going to get rid of you. So my job is to be a football player and conduct myself respectfully off the field."
Tomlin denied saying those exact words to his players and Colon would not say who specifically said them.
"It was said," Colon remarked.
"It doesn't need to be said, you just watch the actions that's going around us. There is zero tolerance for anything."
Defensive end Aaron Smith related a similar story.
"We took it different ways," Smith said of Tomlin's talk, "depending on how you interpreted it. But after what we've seen gone on, there's not going to be much tolerance for stuff around here."
Roethlisberger joined his teammates for their first of 14 permitted spring practices but declined to speak afterward. But he did give a few individual reporters a friendly greeting when he saw them later. Players said he did not address the team.
Roethlisberger awaits word from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and/or Steelers president Art Rooney on possible discipline they may mete out to their quarterback after a sexual assault claim lodged against him March 5 by a woman in Georgia. Authorities in Georgia have decided not to charge him, but Rooney made it clear that he will be disciplined. Most suspect that to be some kind of suspension for a number of games to start the 2010 season.
The Steelers disputed a report on Yahoo.com that Goodell would announce the discipline Monday or Tuesday. Rooney said last week the discipline would not be announced until after the NFL draft, which begins Thursday.
"The next step for us is to see where this thing goes from a disciplinary standpoint and then react accordingly, and we will at that time," Tomlin said.
If Roethlisberger is suspended, Dennis Dixon or veteran Charlie Batch would start.
"I've always been a guy who has prided myself as far as being game-ready regardless of what the situation is. And I'm going to continue doing that," Dixon said.
Players who spoke were united in their expressed support of Roethlisberger.
"He's our guy, flat-out," Colon said. "Whatever he has to go through I'm going to stand behind him, not only as a teammate but as a friend and brother and I'm going to make sure he gets through it."
Colon was with Roethlisberger's party the night of March 4 and early March 5 in Georgia, but has said he did not see anything and was not involved. Police questioned him, and those interviews were among the full report of the investigation the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained last week.
"It's tough from an aspect I have a mom and a sister and I have females in the family and they have to read negative things and so-called things I've said," Colon said. "It is what it is at this point. All I can do is come to work everyday and be positive and be representative of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Players also stated their hope to get the issue out of the way as quickly as possible.
"I think we're at the point now where it's time to put it behind us," said linebacker James Farrior, a defensive captain, who acknowledged the possibility of a suspension. "We all understand that nobody's bigger than the team. We all know we can play without any one person. We'll just take that approach and see what happens."
Safety Troy Polamalu said he has not paid much attention to what has happened, but that "nobody on this team is irreplaceable."
"Another thing is, he has been one of our main guys these last few years. I don't imagine it being that big of a distraction at all. We've played without him quite a few games and played without quite a few of our stars."
Receiver Antwaan Randle El, rejoining the Steelers after four seasons with the Washington Redskins, said he had not talked with Roethlisberger about the predicament.
"The bottom line is, it happened, we're dealing with it, we have dealt with it and at some point we have to move on," Randle El said. "Better now than during the season."
All denied the issues surrounding Roethlisberger will be a distraction to the team.
"That's part of life," Randle El said. "You're going to have stumbling blocks in life with your team and your family. The bottom line is you have to be able to stay together and move through it. When you don't, that's when you have problems later on. We're kind of dealing with it now, getting it out and I think we'll be fine."
Aaron Smith did mention another bottom line when asked if he wanted Roethlisberger to remain their quarterback for the long haul.
"Wouldn't you? The man's a great quarterback. I mean he comes out there and he wins games and that's what we're in business to do, win games."
NOTES -- WR Hines Ward was the only player on the roster who did not attend the first OTA. ... New safety Will Allen wore Deshea Townsend's No. 26, which may be an indication the team has no intent to re-sign their veteran cornerback, a free agent. ... Polamalu turned out for the first practice after spending the past two springs in California working out.