Roethlisberger throws in practice, provides a ray of hope for injury-riddled Steelers
January 16, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks to players as they warm up during practice Friday on the South Side.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers won’t have All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown or running back DeAngelo Williams in the lineup Sunday when they play the Denver Broncos in an AFC divisional-round game, but there is a good possibility they will have injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
And for some players inside the Steelers locker room that was all they needed to hear.
“He’s a gamer,” offensive lineman Ramon Foster said Friday after practice. “I’d rather have him on my side than anyone else in the league. As far as trying to win a game, he knows how to make it happen.”
Heyward-Bey, Miller discuss Broncos
Steelers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Heath Miller discuss their team's upcoming game against the Broncos. (Video by Matt Freed; 1/15/2016)
Roethlisberger was a full participant in practice for the first time this week after he sustained a sprained shoulder in the Steelers’ 18-16 victory against Cincinnati Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game at Paul Brown Stadium. Roethlisberger threw passes for the first time since the Bengals game, and coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with what he saw from his quarterback.
“He did a nice job,” Tomlin said. “He did everything we asked him to do. I was very specific about what I asked him to do. I wanted to see a variety of throws. I wanted to see enough, no more. I thought it was a productive day.”
The Steelers listed Roethlisberger as questionable on their official injury report, but he is expected to play.
“It’s great to have him back out there,” said receiver Martavis Bryant, one of the players expected to have a bigger role in the offense with Brown out. “I know his arm is probably sore, but he looked great. He’s a tough player and a great player. He’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
Winning a playoff game on the road against the NFL’s top-rated defense without the league’s top receiver as well as Williams, who almost reached 1,000 yards rushing, won’t be easy. Brown accounted for nearly 30 percent of the team’s offensive yards in the regular season. He tied for the NFL lead with 136 receptions and set a personal-best with 1,834 receiving yards.
When the Steelers beat the Broncos, 34-27, Dec. 20 at Heinz Field, Brown had 16 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Now the onus falls on Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Sammie Coates, who is expected to be active for a game for the first time in two months.
“We’ve been without people before,” Tomlin said. “That’s the nature of this thing. Every now and then I walk past the training room and I see [All-Pro center] Maurkice Pouncey sitting in there, I see [All-Pro running back] Le’Veon Bell sitting there. It reminds us where we are and what this thing is about and why it’s the ultimate team game.”
Brown was injured on the Steelers’ winning drive when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict lowered his shoulder into Brown’s head after an incomplete pass. The NFL suspended Burfict for the first three games of next season for the vicious hit as well as others in the season.
Brown did not pass through the NFL concussion protocol and never set foot on the practice field this week.
Bryant, who was second on the team in receiving yards (765) and receiving touchdowns (6), said it’s a chance for others to play a more prominent role in the offense.
“Adversity brings out the great ones,” Bryant said. “You’ll see a lot of guys on Sunday step up and make plays.”
Heyward-Bey (21 receptions for 314 yards) becomes the third receiver and Coates (one reception for 11 yards) will play when offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants to use four receivers.
“You always have to be prepared,” said Coates, who previously dressed for a game Nov. 15 against Cleveland. “I come out here every day and put in the work to showcase that I’m always available and ready to go if they need me. An opportunity opened up, and I just have to be ready to step in.”
Williams was injured in the regular-season finale Jan. 3 against Cleveland and missed the wild-card game against Cincinnati. He did not practice this week. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, who accounted for 183 yards from scrimmage against the Bengals, will get another opportunity against the Broncos.
The Steelers have thrived on Tomlin’s “next man up” mantra this season. They have overcome season-ending injuries to some of their best players to be one of the remaining eight teams in the playoffs.
Foster was asked what the game plan was going be without Brown, who had played in 55 consecutive games, including the playoffs, since the 2012 season.
“Play football,” he said. “We’ve done it before. A.B.’s been in games where he hasn’t had big games, and we’ve won. Our job is going to be to go out there and get a win.”
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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