Ben Roethlisberger had the look of a starting quarterback again Wednesday, leading his offense through a full practice and leaving an impression on his teammates that he's ready to return Sunday in Cleveland.
"He looked all right," Hines Ward said. "I don't know if he really ran around or stuff like that. He looked good so, with a week [off], he's feeling a little better, it definitely helped him.
"I'm sure he wants to get a little playing time before we head to the playoffs, considering we don't know the circumstances of what's going to happen."
Tackle Max Starks didn't have the best view of Roethlisberger since he lines up to block in front of him but said, "He didn't seem like anything was wrong" and predicted he would start. "I would assume so if he's taking snaps, yeah."
Roethlisberger missed Saturday's 27-0 victory against St. Louis with a high ankle sprain, first injured Dec. 8 in Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns. He played Dec. 19 in San Francisco, but coach Mike Tomlin decided to give him more time to heal by resting him last week.
The coaches want to use him 25-30 snaps ideally Sunday so he's not idle between Dec. 19 and whenever their first playoff game is. Roethlisberger said he wants to play against Cleveland simply because he enjoys playing.
"I'd like to play just because I like being out there. I don't know that I necessarily need it -- it'd be nice to get another week of rest, but I prefer to play."
Roethlisberger has played through many injuries over his career, and he has never been shy about talking about them, starting with what he said were broken toes in the AFC championship game his rookie season, a revelation that irked coach Bill Cowher.
"Coach Cowher always said I complain too much about it," Roethlisberger said through a smile. "But I don't really care if people think I'm tough or not, I just want the guys in this room to know I go out and fight for them."
He praised Charlie Batch for his play in Saturday's 27-0 victory against St. Louis and said the week's rest did his high left ankle sprain some good.
"We didn't have any setbacks, that's obviously the good thing. To just get a rest and not tweak it or go in the wrong direction was good.
"The pain is always going to be there. I can deal with the pain, I'm not worried about that. I think the biggest thing is not set myself up to get hurt in other ways or hurt it worse. If I'm a sitting duck back there that's probably not the smartest thing in the world to do. But if it's just the pain, I'll deal with that."
Roethlisberger said the range in his left foot "got a lot better. The biggest thing is weight bearing up on my toes, that obviously involves turning and throwing."
This would be Roethlisberger's 113th career start and, if the Steelers win, his 80th victory. He would be the fourth-fastest quarterback to 80 wins since the Super Bowl era began in 1966. The three fastest were Tom Brady (104 games), Roger Staubach (105) and Ken Stabler (112). Roethlisberger is 32-9 against AFC North teams.
Maurkice Pouncey returned to a full practice a day after he was named the starting center for the AFC in the Pro Bowl and is likely to play Sunday after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain.
However, LaMarr Woodley could miss his sixth game in the past eight with a hamstring injury after being limited in practice. He is one sack away from his fourth consecutive double-digit season.
"Don't look like it's going to happen," Woodley said.
"Does it make sense to hold out and maybe rest this hamstring a little bit more before the playoffs? That makes more sense. We're just going to play it day by day, what's best for me and what's best for the team."
The Steelers had a few surprise no-shows at practice Wednesday: James Harrison, listed as having a neck injury, and Troy Polamalu with a new injury involving a knee. Mike Wallace was limited with an ankle injury.
Emmanuel Sanders went through a full practice and should return to play after missing the past three games with a foot injury.
Ryan Clark has the team lead in tackles by eight heading into the final game. No safety has led the Steelers in tackles since at least 1980, when full-season statistics could be found.
Tackles, an unofficial NFL stat, are compiled by Steelers coaches while watching video the Monday after a game. They are different than the ones listed on the NFL website.
If Clark, who has 96 tackles, does not finish as the team leader in tackles, another safety could break a long string held mostly by linebackers. Polamalu is second on the team with 88 tackles and leads them with 73 solo tackles.
Usually, the team tackle crown is held by one of the starting inside linebackers, who happen to be James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, who is third with 86 tackles.
"Guys have missed games," Clark reasoned. "And Timmons had to play out of position a little bit.
"Both Troy and I, we've had to make a lot of plays and a lot of tackles this year. It's clear by the numbers, our run defense is not the same. Usually a lot of those plays aren't getting to us.
"The good thing about us having that amount of tackles is we've been able to keep a lot of those runs down to 15, at most 20 yards, which has helped our team."
The Steelers revealed only their first and second alternates for the Pro Bowl, but turns out there are many more including guard Chris Kemoeatu. Although having lost his starting job in November and behind even Trai Essex at left guard, Kemoeatu is a third alternate guard. That means, if for some reason three guards back out, are hurt or their team makes the Super Bowl, Kemoeatu will make the Pro Bowl.
Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor are third alternates, Lawrence Timmons a fourth alternate and Antonio Brown is the No. 5 wide receiver. Brown likely will see action in the Pro Bowl at wide receiver besides his duties as a punt/kick returner.
First Published December 29, 2011 5:00 AM