On the Steelers: A game of what if and everyone in Steelers Nation is allowed to play

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Now comes the tough part for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, dealing with the fallout.

Forget one's opinions of the disgraced Steelers quarterback, about what happened in Georgia and whether people feel he was railroaded or not punished enough. Consider wearing his shoes and or being in those of the Steelers now.

Take Roethlisberger. He always has been able to compartmentalize, to put aside whatever is going on in his life and concentrate on football, whether it is physical or mental anguish, a motorcycle accident or a lawsuit. This will test him like none other.

His reputation in this city that once held him in such high regard has hit rock bottom. How the fans greet him in training camp and in the preseason opener Aug. 14 at Heinz Field should tell what is in store for him at home. Surely Aug. 21 will let him know what to expect on the road because the Steelers play at the New York Giants, who do not have bashful fans.

Roethlisberger also must deal with his opponents because the trash-talkers will be out in full force, trying to get under his skin and those of his teammates. He should have little problem with his teammates. It has been documented that he never was the most popular quarterback in his locker room, yet he has delivered two Lombardi Trophies. Both he and his teammates have been able to put aside any differences they might have when they step on the field and that will not be different now.

Now, switch back to the Steelers' side. If you are Bruce Arians, are you putting together two playbooks, one with Roethlisberger and one without? They say they do not change anything when a starter misses a game and someone else replaces him. That may be true in some circumstances. But not at quarterback. Not now. There will not be separate playbooks but you can count on dramatic differences in game plans.

Already under command to run the ball more consistently by their president before the escapades in Georgia, the Steelers must do that in the first four games no matter who plays quarterback. Once Roethlisberger returns, can they throw the switch and adjust back to what they were in the passing game?

They must prepare a starter in training camp, which will be the most intriguing at the position since Bubby Brister brashly predicted that "I'm the man, write it down" as he entered the team's 1988 training camp. The site of Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and/or Charlie Batch taking snaps with the first team and Roethlisberger running the second or third will be rather peculiar.

The preseason games also will take on a different look. Instead of having the starting quarterback run out there for a series or two with the first team in the first two games, whoever it is must play more often to get ready for the regular season. Roethlisberger figures to get as much time in preseason games as he has in the past, very little.

The NFL did the Steelers a favor by scheduling their week off after the fourth game. Assuming commissioner Roger Goodell scales back his suspension from six games to four, Roethlisberger will have two weeks to get ready for his first game, Oct. 17 against Cleveland at home.

Before that occurs, let us examine another scenario: Leftwich or Dixon starts the first four games and plays lights-out and the Steelers go 4-0 and are the talk of the NFL. The offense is humming and Leftwich or Dixon is winning games with his arm, his head and his legs.

What do the Steelers do for Game 5? Bench Leftwich or Dixon, which would bring a howling from the fan base? Play Leftwich or Dixon and let it be known you want to give Roethlisberger more time to shake off the rust? Consider a trade if it continues along those lines?

The other scenario would be that Leftwich, Dixon and Batch all play, all are terrible, and the Steelers open 0-4 or 1-3. Would the fans blame Roethlisberger for what would look like a ruined season?

The scenarios are limited only by the imagination. The Steelers could go 2-2 or 3-1 with average play by the quarterback, and Roethlisberger could step right in for Game 5. And, what if he plays terribly, throws three or four interceptions, and they lose at home to the Browns? It could get ugly at Heinz Field.

There also is the possibility -- the one they all pray happens -- that Roethlisberger will be the model of decorum from now until he disappears for four weeks, that he says all the right things (he must rid himself of that script writer to do so) and does all the right things.

Then, he returns to play in that fifth game and reverts to the only Roethlisberger of old anyone wants to see, the one who played so magnificently at quarterback for the Steelers since his 13-0 rookie season.

That is one scenario, competing against so many others.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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