The ball is in Ben Roethlisberger's lap.
Cleared medically 10 days after his appendectomy, Roethlisberger will start at quarterback for the Steelers Monday night in Jacksonville provided he feels up to it and he can perform properly in practice this week, starting today.
Coach Bill Cowher listed Roethlisberger as questionable for the game, which supposedly means he has a 50 percent chance of playing. Roethlisberger did some work two days ago and threw the ball yesterday. He has four practices to show he's ready to resume his starting role.
"The bottom line is making sure he's comfortable and can protect himself, and he's not going out there thinking about those things," Cowher said. "Getting [medical] clearance, going through the workload and seeing how his body responds to that ... the kid's been through a lot. I want to make sure he's comfortable and he feels good about himself."
As further evidence that Roethlisberger will be ready, the Steelers released rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs from the practice squad yesterday.
Roethlisberger, in his first two seasons, has a reputation for healing quickly, which was enhanced by his remarkable recovery from a June 12 motorcycle accident that broke his jaw, nose and orbital bone.
He cheered on the sideline Thursday as backup Charlie Batch directed the Steelers to a 28-17 victory against Miami in Heinz Field. Batch completed 15 of 25 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. After the game, Batch said if Roethlisberger feels fine, the job is his.
"We're going to go one day at a time and hopefully make progress," Roethlisberger said.
Cowher and Roethlisberger have had their differences over the past two years about injuries. The best example came after the Steelers lost to New England in the AFC title game in the 2004 season. Roethlisberger announced some toes were broken after the game. Cowher responded a day later that Roethlisberger did not have any broken toes.
In this instance, Cowher must believe that if Roethlisberger says he feels fine, he's telling the truth.
"I'm not ready to say that if the doctors say he's OK," then he'll play, Cowher said. "He's a very competitive young man and we'll talk. We have an open dialogue and we'll go from there. It's gotten a lot better. I feel I can interpret what's being said as to where it lies.
"That comes with time and I think the relationship that he and I have is a good one, at least from my perspective it is. We've talked enough that I have a feel for him and what he feels."
His teammates already have expressed some opinions on what they think will happen.
"He doesn't like to miss games," receiver Hines Ward said. "He's going to go out there and do whatever it takes to be out there for Jacksonville. It depends on how much pain tolerance he has. Ben's a guy who played with pain before. Me knowing Ben, he's going to be there for Jacksonville."
Last November, Roethlisberger wanted to pass on a doctor's advice and wait until after the season to have knee surgery. He was finally convinced to have it and he missed three games.
He overcame his injuries from the June accident and was ready to start the opener until he fell ill Sept. 3 and had the appendectomy that day. Because no sutures were needed in the laparoscopic appendectomy, Roethlisberger does not risk tearing anything or injuring the area of the surgery.
"From that perspective, he should be fine," Cowher said. "I think with any player, the most important thing is how they feel. We will work with him and I will talk with him and we will go from there."
Roethlisberger, 24, is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and has a 27-4 record as a starter in the regular season and postseason.Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press
Quarterback Charlie Batch and injured starter Ben Roethlisberger celebrate Heath Miller's 87-yard, fourth-quarter, touchdown reception Thursday against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field.
Click photo for larger image.
Audio commentary from Bill Cowher's press conference Tuesday:
Monday: Steelers (1-0) vs. Jaguars (1-0), 8:30 p.m.
Where: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
TV/radio: ESPN/WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and Steelers Radio Network.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3878.