And everyone thought '09 would be the Steelers' Summer of Distractions. This one has no equal and, again, most of it involves the quarterback.
Coach Mike Tomlin will open his fourth training camp and the 45th for the Steelers at Saint Vincent College Friday with a run test for his players, who will practice for the first time Saturday. How Tomlin will use his quarterbacks in those practices and preseason games remains unknown.
For the second consecutive camp, the attention swirls around Ben Roethlisberger and not because he set several Steelers passing records last season. A year ago, he entered camp shortly after a woman sued him in Nevada for sexual assault. This week, he enters camp after another woman accused him of a March 5 sexual assault in Georgia that produced no charges but one conviction -- a suspension to start the regular season by Roger Goodell. The NFL commissioner indicated Roethlisberger would serve a reduced sentence from six games to four if he followed a righteous path and, by all indications, that is what he has done.
Yet even at four games, the unique circumstances of having to prepare Roethlisberger, who can practice with his teammates until the final roster cuts, and whoever will start at quarterback for the first four games should provide good theatre throughout camp and into October.
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The likely starter for the season's first quarter pole is Byron Leftwich, reacquired in an April trade with Tampa Bay because of Roethlisberger's plight. Dennis Dixon ran No. 2 throughout the spring. Charlie Batch lends his veteran hand, at least until Roethlisberger returns.
Roethlisberger can practice with the team throughout camp and until the Steelers must reduce their roster to 53 Sept. 4. Then, he must stay away from the team's facility until his suspension ends.
How does Tomlin use Roethlisberger in training camp practices and exhibition games? Work him in here and there? Let him run the first team, as he did when he rejoined his teammates for spring practices June 1 through the end June 10? Put him with the second team? The third? Use him sparingly in team drills while having him work extensively in other, smaller groups? And, how does Tomlin deploy Leftwich and Dixon? Normally, the starting quarterback runs 2-3 series in the first preseason game, 2-3 in the last and has more extensive time in the middle two. Does Leftwich get more as he gets ready to start the first four games? And when does Roethlisberger enter and for how long?
Tomlin is in the tough position of trying to get two quarterbacks ready to start in 2010, one for September and another for October and the longer haul. And the one who, presumably, will start three-quarters of the games must disappear from the team for a month at the end of the preseason.
"We're kind of making it up as we go along," Tomlin said in June. "There's no blueprint for these situations or circumstances. And, even if there were, you wouldn't necessarily follow it. You try to do what is appropriate for this specific instance and situation and the men involved and what is best for this football team. So, even if there was a similar or like situation in another city at another time, it doesn't necessarily provide a blueprint because every situation and circumstance is different when you're dealing with people."
The quarterback position is the main headache for the Steelers, but it is not the only one. The other half of their Super Bowl XLIII-winning combination also disappeared when they cut ties with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, another player who caused them headaches. He, too, will miss the first four games of the season because of an NFL suspension, only he will miss games for the New York Jets after the Steelers dumped him for a fifth-round draft pick.
Offensive tackle Willie Colon was lost for the season when his Achilles tendon tore last month, an injury that ended 2010 for wide receiver Limas Sweed in May's minicamp. Fifth-round pick Chris Scott, who may have been a candidate to replace Colon at tackle, was lost with foot surgery in June. There also is an angry linebacker. LaMarr Woodley is dismayed the Steelers have told him they will not extend his contract, which ends after his fourth season.
"You look around the league and you see different teams getting stuff done with their players in similar situations, and you think, 'What, the Steelers don't care about me?' Stuff like that goes through your mind,'' Woodley told Michael Silver of Yahoo last week.
The Steelers eliminated one possible distraction when they signed Tomlin to a three-year contract extension through 2014, one of the few positive notes for them this offseason, which they likely will be happy to see end.