As usual every Wednesday, a gaggle of media gathered around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at lunchtime in the Steelers locker room for a midweek interview session.
The latest assembly was far from usual. With double the attendance, Roethlisberger approached the crowd with his right arm in a black sling and a tale of just how dangerous things might have been early in the third quarter Monday night at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger has a sprain to his right sternoclavicular joint that connects the breastbone to the collarbone. But that's not the worst of it. Worse is that mysterious rib injury that was previously reported by the Post-Gazette but unmentioned by the Steelers until Roethlisberger brought it up Wednesday.
He called it a "dislocation of the first rib."
"That's the scary part because I guess if it goes in the wrong direction it can puncture the aorta. That's more of the issue I think. That's probably the more painful part."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin disputed the fact that Roethlisberger sustained separate injuries when he was sacked Monday night.
"To my knowledge, the injuries are one in the same. I don't get into explicit details with you guys," he told a group of media after practice. "I think they are connected. I don't have a skeleton in front of me."
Because of the danger, Roethlisberger said he probably cannot play until the rib heals, and he's not sure how long that will take, but he does not think it will end his season.
"I don't think so. I don't know, though. I'm not a medical expert. I'm just going to do what I can to get back as fast I can"
Tomlin also declined to speculate on how long his Pro Bowl quarterback might be sidelined.
"I live in the present," Tomlin said. "He is out this week."
Asked if he would return this season, the coach answered, "Next question."
Roethlisberger said he's gotten only about four hours sleep the past two nights and had to do so in a chair.
"Certain movements," he said, "are very painful."
Roethlisberger said doctors told him the injury is so rare in athletes that the last one they knew about that had a similar injury was a rugby player in 1998.
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola, however, reportedly had his aorta threatened when he sustained a similar SC shoulder sprain earlier this year because his clavicle also was dislocated and popped inward.
The only other time quarterback Byron Leftwich got a chance to prepare to start a football game over the past five seasons came more than three years ago, and it came for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started the first three games of'09.
Sunday night, he will make his 50th start in the NFL, his first for the Steelers.
"It's always better when you can prepare, especially when you're the backup because you never get any reps," he said about practicing with the first-team offense. "To have the opportunity during the week to prepare will help."
Leftwich is no normal backup. He was once the franchise quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted him seventh overall in '03 -- four spots higher than the Steelers got Roethlisberger in the '04 draft.
This isn't his first rodeo, but it has been a long time. Through the years, his windup throwing motion, his lack of mobility and his injuries have been critiqued.
"I heard about that before I even became a pro," Leftwich said. "I heard about that when I was at Marshall. Pretty much from the last college game to the draft you hear it all, so I've heard it all. Yeah, I've got the long windup. I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but I believe I can play a little bit. We'll just see Sunday night."
As for changing the game plan to suit his different style, Leftwich said the Steelers will not make major alterations.
"We came in. We saw the game plan. We might do things different, because let's just be honest, I'm not going to run around and make two or three guys miss, then roll all the way to the left and find Mike Wallace in the back of the end zone. I'm not capable of doing that.
"But what I can do is get the ball in the right guy's hands and just be myself. They're not asking me to do anything but be myself, and that's what I'll do."
Two concussions in the past three games prompted safety Ryan Clark to change helmets. He will wear a Riddell Revolution Speed helmet, the same one worn by Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel among others who have opted for the less-cool-looking helmet that ranks highly in concussion tests.
"It looks like a big moon helmet, you see it, it's terrible," Clark said, holding up his new headgear. "Look how ugly it is and how big it is. It tested No. 1 in concussion tests. I changed the inside of it, hopefully, that helps."
Clark had a concussion playing against Washington Oct. 28. He passed all his tests that week and played against the New York Giants.
" I feel good, man," he said after going through a limited practice Wednesday. "I felt a lot worse physically after the Washington game. That was a tough one."
Clark, though, said there is a higher level of concern by him and doctors after his second concussion in a short period, but that "I was better on the tests this time than last. I feel better."
He will see a doctor again before practice today and must continue to pass the IMPact tests this week in order to play Sunday.
Ta'amu on practice squad
Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu is back with the Steelers, only on their practice squad and not the 53-man roster. The Steelers released him Monday in order to make room for wide receiver/returner David Gilreath because of an injury to Antonio Brown. The Steelers had an opening on their practice squad because of Gilreath's signing from that unit.
Three previously unannounced injured players joined the others who did not practice Wednesday. Add Keisel, offensive tackle Max Starks (ankle), and outside linebacker Chris Carter (abdomen) to a list that includes wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle).
Brown said he hopes to be able to practice Friday and possibly play Sunday.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @EdBouchette. First Published November 15, 2012 5:00 AM