The chickens don't come home to roost for another 31/2 months when the NFL season opens, and Mike Tomlin says he's nowhere near ready to declare who will be the Steelers' starting quarterback for the first quarter-season.
But there is a pecking order, even with the big bird not around.
The arrangement remains Byron Leftwich No. 1, Dennis Dixon No. 2, Charlie Batch No. 3 and Ben Roethlisberger in limbo.
That's the way it was in minicamp 21/2 weeks ago, and how they lined up again when spring practice resumed Tuesday.
Tomlin has said he'd know his new starter as training camp opened, but Monday referred to it differently.
"We'll go in with a pecking order, if you will, and the opportunities to show what you're capable of will be based on that pecking order," the coach said after practice. "All guys will be given an opportunity, not an equal opportunity, that's just the nature of this game, the nature of this business. I will make those judgments based on intuition and knowledge I have of the men at an appropriate time and we'll proceed. They'll understand that and move forward."
Roethlisberger still has not taken those forward steps because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not cleared him to rejoin his teammates. The starting quarterback will miss at least the first four games of the 16-game NFL season, a suspension Goodell levied for incidents involving Roethlisberger March 4-5 in Georgia. Goodell presumably is reviewing the behavior evaluation Roethlisberger underwent before he allows him to return to the team.
"I'm just going to wait for word from New York just like everyone else," Tomlin said, "and I'm not going to speculate until I get that word."
While Tomlin said Roethlisberger's absence from practices is less critical than it might be for others, he's not confident his quarterback can get work he needs while being away from the team.
"It would be unintelligent of me to say that him [not] being here is not significant when I'm in the process of recruiting others to be here," Tomlin said. "So I'm not stupid. ... It is important to work, that's why we work."
Confidence is not something lacking in Leftwich, who has had his ups and downs in the NFL since he was Jacksonville's starter. He relieved Roethlisberger in two games in 2008 and the Steelers won both on the way to a Super Bowl championship. After one down 2009 season in Tampa, he's back and has the look of the favorite in the quarter-season quarterback derby.
"We all understand that Ben has been in that huddle for a long time now," Leftwich said. "He's been their guy for a long time, but the circumstances that exist, somebody's got to be in there, so I'm going to work my tail off and try to be the guy."
Leftwich said he does not see the job as his to lose.
"I don't have to do that. The way I approach it doesn't really matter. Coach Tomlin will make that decision. I try every time I step on this field to be the best quarterback out there. I'm sure that's all Charlie does and that's all Dennis does."
Troy Polamalu was not among those who practiced Tuesday and is presumably back in California working out. Polamalu had been through the first two practices April 19-20 and then the three-day minicamp. Said Tomlin, "I tend to focus on the guys who are here. ... As I coach you can be a miserable person worried about the ones who aren't." ... Rookie defensive lineman Doug Worthington cannot attend until his Ohio State classwork is finished in June.