At least one quarterback headed for the Hall of Fame will take the field Sunday night in Denver when Peyton Manning makes his Broncos debut against the Steelers. Three others played this preseason as if they belong there.
No NFL team's quarterbacks have as much experience as the Steelers' three, and they all performed in the preseason as if they have been in Todd Haley's new offense their entire careers.
Ben Roethlisberger, 30 and in his ninth NFL season, had a 97.5 passer rating. Byron Leftwich, 32 and in his 10th season, had a 131.1 rating. Charlie Batch, 37 and in his 15th NFL season, had a 110.8 rating.
Thirteen NFL teams will open the season with only two quarterbacks on their rosters. The Steelers will follow their historical routine with three. Coach Mike Tomlin resisted any thoughts of going with two and putting young Jerrod Johnson on the practice squad because of all that experience and the way they've performed, and not just this preseason.
"The reality is that when you talk about backup quarterbacks you need to find comfort in that they're capable of coming in and playing winning football," Tomlin said Tuesday. "In those two [backups], we know that we have just that. We've won with them in the recent past, they've displayed in this preseason that they're capable of being reasons why we win. The solutions or the answers to the questions lie in that."
Teams go with two and one on the practice squad to save a roster spot for another position. It is unlikely they will lose two quarterbacks to injury on one game, and, if they lose one for an extended period, they can sign the practice squad quarterback to the 53-man roster.
For example, if the Steelers went with two and had Johnson on the practice squad, they could have kept a fifth wide receiver, or a fifth cornerback, etc.
"There's always some discussion in today's NFL whether you go with two or three," Tomlin said.
"I always find comfort in the three. When I walk up and down these hallways and look at pictures of the '70s Steelers, when there were 45-man rosters, I saw three quarterbacks in those pictures. So, that's a little bit of a history lesson for me."
One time, though, coach Chuck Noll kept only two, Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek, and both left a 1977 game in Houston with injuries. Safety Tony Dungy, who played quarterback at the University of Minnesota, was pressed into duty and wound up intercepting a pass and throwing two in that game.
Tomlin should not have to worry about repeating such a move.
"When you've got three that are capable of being reasons why you win in general, I'm going to lean on going with that three.
"Obviously, some things that are going on at other positions oftentimes weigh in that when you're putting together a 53-man roster, but, just in general, we value and respect that quarterback position, particularly, those that can be reasons why we win."
James Harrison signaled that his left knee came through practice Monday without any negative reaction.
Harrison practiced for the first time Monday after missing the entire preseason with swelling in the knee that required arthroscopic surgery Aug. 15. He said after that practice that Tuesday would be important, based on how his knee reacted to the stress. If it "blows up," he said, "that's it."
But after Harrison showed up for treatment on the knee Tuesday, he gave the "A-OK" sign when he was asked how it reacted. He wore no brace or bandage of any kind on his knee.
Tomlin said at his news conference that he does not have expectations one way or the other as to the Pro Bowl linebacker's ability to play Sunday in the opener in Denver.
"James is a guy that's a competitor," Tomlin said. "I know that if it's within his power to be there and perform and, particularly for his teammates, he will be. I have had no reservations about him in that regard.
"The issue is just whether or not he gets a clean bill of health from our medical staff. He has to at this point in terms of being able to practice. We'll see how his body responds to that work and let that be a determinant about how we move forward."
Running back Rashard Mendenhall likely will not play in Denver as he continues to return from January ACL surgery, but he practiced Monday, and Tomlin would not rule him out of the opener. He included others in that group besides Harrison: Jason Worilds (wrist) and Isaac Redman (ankle).
"We are going to leave the door open for all of those men and see where the week takes us. A lot of their availabilities depend on how they respond to a workload."
Two others Tomlin labeled "banged up" are defensive backs Curtis Brown and Robert Golden, although he said they are less likely to miss any practice time this week. And, of course, safety Ryan Clark will not play and Ryan Mundy will start in his place.
Tomlin added that Casey Hampton participated "above the line" Thursday night against Carolina and should be ready to go.
He also liked Mike Wallace's command of his assignments in his first practice Monday.
"I thought it was pretty productive. Like I mentioned with some of the other guys who hadn't participated much, number one I was generally, positively impressed with his general, overall understanding of what it is he needs to do. Number two, I think he displayed a decent level of overall physical conditioning."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 5, 2012 4:00 AM