Losing a starting quarterback could send panic waves through an NFL locker room, but that isn’t the case with the Steelers thanks to their depth.
The team will be without Ben Roethlisberger this week after he sprained the sternoclavicular (SC) joint in his right shoulder, but to a man every player has confidence in Byron Leftwich, who will step in and start against the Ravens on Sunday night at Heinz Field.
“He is more than capable of pulling this game out,” said guard Willie Colon. “We believe in him. As a line we have to do our job and make sure he has time to get the ball out. We have to run the ball effectively so he isn’t back there trying to be Superman. We have to have a balanced attack. We just have to do our part. We know Byron, the receivers and the running backs are going to do their part. As a line we have to be hard-nosed and be ready to go.
“We have all of the confidence in the world in Byron. I know he is going to step up and get the job done.”
Coach Mike Tomlin made it official on Wednesday that it would be Leftwich after getting an injury update on Roethlisberger. He said he didn’t have any kind of timetable as to how long Roethlisberger would be out, but he too is comfortable with Leftwich in the starting spot.
“He is a veteran guy,” said Tomlin. “This isn’t his first rodeo. He has good, charismatic leadership. He can make all the throws on the field. We expect winning football from him.”
Knowing early in the week that Leftwich will be the starter works to the Steelers advantage. It allows him to get plenty of reps with the starters, working on timing and getting comfortable with the receivers, and allows the rest of the offense the chance to get reacquainted, in a sense, with his style.
“We have a full week of practice to deal with the situation,” said guard Ramon Foster. “We have played with him before. We have full confidence in what he can do and he is able to get a win. We have to be us, protect him, let our backs run and we will be fine.”
Leftwich has played in seven games in four seasons with the Steelers, but this will be the first time he has started for the black and gold and the players don’t expect much to change in this week’s game plan.
“We will have the same plays,” said tight end Heath Miller. “Byron is capable of executing everything we do. We know where he is going to be, he is going to get the ball out and we know he’s going to get it done. We have a lot of history. Byron has been here a long time. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of days at practice so it’s not a big deal. We have confidence in our locker room the next man up is going to do the job.”
The Steelers have become accustomed to the “next man up” having to step in as they have had injuries at receiver, running back, linebacker, in the secondary and the offensive line this year. In each case someone has risen to the challenge and the same is expected of Leftwich this week.
“There will be a lot of ups and downs during the season, but only the strong survive,” said receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “You have to have a strong mentality and we do on this team. We have complete confidence in every guy in this locker room if the time comes they can step up and make plays for us.”
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Coach Mike Tomlin addressed the media following Wednesday’s practice regarding Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.
Re: Making the decision to start Byron Leftwich:
We always lean on the expert advice of our medical staff. They didn’t think it was safe for him to play. Obviously, we are going with Leftwich.
Re: Ben Roethlisberger having an additional rib injury:
To my knowledge the injuries are one in the same. I don’t get into explicit details with you guys. I think they are connected. I don’t have a skeleton in front of me.
Do you have any sort of timeline for Roethlisberger’s return?
I live in the present. He is out this week.
Does the offense change with Leftwich?
Just to lean on his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. It’s not anything complex.
Re: His strengths:
He is a veteran guy. This isn’t his first rodeo. He has good, charismatic leadership. He can make all the throws on the field. We expect winning football from him.
Are you confident Roethlisberger will play again this year?
[Laughs] Next question.
Will you run the ball more this week?
We are going to do what is required for us to win the football game.
Are the mistakes you made last week in the run game correctable?
Any update on Ryan Clark?
I am just talking about Ben.
Re: Comfort in knowing you have succeeded in the past without Roethlisberger:
I am not looking for comfort. I am looking for results. We are going to prepare and play the football game.
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Are you excited to get back out there?
Yeah, to be honest with you, I am. It’s exciting to get an opportunity to go out there with the Mike Wallaces of the world, the Emmanuel Sanders, the Heath Millers, to have an opportunity to get the ball to these guys. Just to play with this caliber of team gives me comfort, understanding who I’m going out there with. This isn’t the “Bad News Bears.” That gives me comfort with the playmakers we have around me. We’ll see Sunday night.
Re: Having time to prepare knowing that you are starting:
It’s always better when you can prepare, especially when you’re the backup because you never get any reps. To have the opportunity during the week to prepare will help. We understand we have a tough opponent coming in here Sunday night. We respect those guys. They’re going to come in here ready to play. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play and we’ll see what happens.
Are practice and timing the keys to your success?
I don’t know. We’re just trying to score one more point than those guys. That’s all that really matters. We’re in that same process every week no matter who we play. We’re just trying to win the football game and we’re going to do our best job to do that.
Do you expect this offense to be any different than when Ben Roethlisberger is running it?
No. It won’t be different. 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 endzone. 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.
Re: Suggestions that this offense doesn’t play to your strengths like arm strength:
Honestly, arm strength really only comes into play when you’re throwing the ball down the field. If it’s “dink and dunk,” whatever we want to call it, my job is to hit the guy with the ball that’s open. I don’t care if it’s five yards down the field or 25 yards down the field. People are entitled to their opinion. I understand that in this situation nobody is probably giving us a shot and that’s understandable. Any time you lose a quarterback like Ben, let’s be honest, I think he was playing on an MVP level. I think he’s an elite quarterback in this league and he’s down. We all understand that. We all understand everybody’s opinion and how they feel about the situation. But we’re going to have to play the game Sunday night and we’ll see what happens. There’s no need for me to think about what-ifs. The game is going to be Sunday night and somebody is going to win it. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it’s us.
Are they going to give you more deep passes down the field?
We’ll have to see.
How do you get good at making the right reads on plays like Roethlisberger has when you don’t get reps and practice?
Because that’s what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to be able see 22 guys on the field at the same time and that’s what I’ve always been able to do my whole life, see the field and get the ball to the right guy. They’re not asking me to do anything special. I know this is a big game. It’s a big game for both teams but I don’t have to go out there and try to do anything special. I just have to go out there and do my job and be myself. Is that good enough? We’ll have to see.
Will you spend extra time working on things in practice and will it be different for you?
We’ll do what we have to do. Practice will be different because this is the first time I’m throwing to Mike [Wallace] and Emmanuel [Sanders], so practice will be real different. But nobody has to do anything special. It’s still football. My job is still to get the ball to the open guys, read defenses, make the right decisions and that’s not going to change for any quarterback in this league. I don’t care who’s playing. You have to do all those things from the quarterback position. We’ll see what happens on Sunday night.
Have you been in contact with Roethlisberger?
Yes. Ben was in meetings today. We talked a lot today. I talked to him on the phone the night of. I talked to him on Monday, I talked to him on Tuesday, I talked to him today and he’s in a little pain. But we’re just talking football. It’s my job to do my part to help this football team out and from that point, we talk about football. We don’t talk about the injury too much because I’ve been in those situations before and I know it’s frustrating missing football games. But my job is to get ready and he’s helping me in that process and we’ll see what happens Sunday night.
Do you feel like a rookie again with excitement and anticipation?
No, I don’t feel like I’m a rookie. [Laughs] I’m 32 years old. I wish I felt like a rookie but I was jokingly saying that because I joke with Ben all the time. I don’t miss this part of playing quarterback in the National Football League. I tell him all the time I don’t miss the conference calls, all the interviews and all the media. I tell him all the time. I don’t really miss that part of it. It’s not a situation where I feel like a rookie, though. I’ve got eight cameras in front of me and that hasn’t happened in a while.
Do you know how long you will be filling-in for Roethlisberger?
No, no I don’t. I’ll be ready. I’ll take it on a week-to-week basis. I know Ben’s a tough guy. I’m not even going to think about that right now. All I’ve got on my mind is Sunday night.
Do you feel like having a long wind-up compromises your ability to get rid of the ball quickly in this offense?
No I don’t. I normally defend myself in this process and defend myself by throwing out a bunch of numbers. But I’ll save that for the offseason. I’m throwing the ball the way I’ve thrown the ball my whole life. I’ve played 10 years in this league and to play this long in this league, they’re not going to just let guys that can’t play sit there. I don’t think about none of that stuff. I don’t think about, “his mobility,” or “his wind-up,” or “he can’t do this, he can’t do that.” I try to worry about the things I can do.
So you’ve heard about that long release before?
I heard about that before I even became a pro. I heard about that when I was at Marshall. When you hear all the bad things about yourself, 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 wind-up. I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I believe I can play a little bit. We’ll just see Sunday night. I don’t have to put any pressure on myself to go out there and do something different, do something special. I’m just telling myself to just go out there and play the way that I play and we’ll see if we can win the football game.
When you watched the tape of Monday night’s game, what were you happy with and what needs to change?
The first few plays, I felt like everybody was moving faster than me. [Laughs] Maybe that is because I’m slower than everybody but it was a situation when you aren’t out there, let’s just be honest, it takes a little time for it to get back. I was just glad that I was able to see the field the way I was able to, complete some balls on third downs when my number was called to convert some things. I just went out there and did my job. I sat there and looked at it and critiqued myself to try and make myself better for Sunday night.
Coach Mike Tomlin described every opponent as “nameless,, grey faces.” Does that apply to Baltimore, especially when the Steelers are 0-4 against Baltimore without Roethlisberger?
Yeah, it is. He says that every week. That hasn’t changed. That’s what he believes in. That’s what we believe in. We’ve tried not to make it about anybody else. We try to do our part and execute well. We feel as though if we go out there and execute well, we can have success against anybody and we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do to make sure we can be successful Sunday night.
Did you ever try to throw it a different way or did anyone ever make a compelling case for you to change?
No, that’s the crazy thing. All the guys that have been around me, that have coached me, told me to throw the football the way I throw the football as long as I throw it the way I’m throwing it. Nobody has ever changed my motion. You have to think, I’m a guy from a high school that had one coach. I wasn’t really fit in the pedigree. I’m a D.C. guy, an inner city guy who grew up with no coaches, just throwing rocks or anything I could pick up.
Did you go to any quarterback camps in high school?
No, I didn’t do all that. I throw the way I throw. There’s nothing I could do about it right now. There was nothing they told me to do about it when I was 23, 25, 27, 29. Yeah, I’ve got the long wind-up. You look at every guy around the league, we all do things differently. The key is can we go out there and get the job done? That’s all I’m worried about.
You’ve had some success. Do you ever wonder why people don’t do it your way?
[Laughs] No. I just do what I do. Let them say what they’ve got to say.
Is this a pretty good situation for you to step into?
Oh yeah. This isn’t a bad situation to be in and that’s my point. We have a quarterback who’s been to the Super Bowl three times in nine years. That goes to tell you how good he is as a quarterback. I’m not going to go out there and try to be Ben. We see the game differently, in ways that he’s physically able to do certain things I can’t do. So, he sees it a little different. That doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and do my job. We understand that everybody is like, “Hey man, they’ve got a backup quarterback Sunday night playing the Baltimore Ravens.” We understand that nobody is really giving us a shot and that’s okay. We’re not trying to say that to say it’s us against the world. It’s just we understand guys have got jobs to do and they have opinions. But we try not to worry about those opinions. We try to worry about what we have to worry about to go out there and get ourselves ready.
Did you feel like you would be able to fit in Todd Haley’s offense when it was being installed?
I never cared about what kind of offense it was because football is football. I’ve been around enough offenses to know that I’ve had some of the same plays in every offense, no matter who is calling it. They just call it differently. I don’t view it that way. I don’t care what type of offense it is. The quarterbacks job is to execute the plays that are called, get the ball to the right guys, get the team in the right play, and that’s what I’ll try to do.
Does the offense seem like it is sluggish without WR Antonio Brown?
That’s a special guy. Let’s just be honest, when he’s on the field it’s special and defenses have to defend him. You have to defend Antonio Brown when he’s on the football field. When you put him with Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, it makes it tough on defensive coordinators and defenses. Any time you miss a guy like that that is that exceptional, that special, it hurts. It hurts anybody, no matter who’s at quarterback. We’ll see.
You are 1-1 against Baltimore. Do you remember either game?
Yes, I do. I actually do. I remember playing Baltimore and we lost my rookie year. Then they came to Jacksonville and we got them.
Coming out of the draft, did you ever wonder what would happen if the Ravens had drafted you after they expressed so much interest in you?
I thought that’s where I would be. I remember conversations with Ozzie [Newsom] and that’s where I thought I would be. I think they thought that’s where I would be. Minnesota found out and it didn’t turn out that way. With the Minnesota thing going down, I thought I would be the seventh pick to the Baltimore Ravens.
Where the Ravens a favorite team of yours?
No. With all the meetings that I had I knew where I would be drafted at. By the talks that you have with people before the draft, I knew I would be the seventh pick. I didn’t know what team because I knew that seventh pick was going to get traded by Minnesota. I knew something would go down with that pick between Baltimore, Carolina and Jacksonville. It was Jacksonville who took me.
Re: Your fire, your competitiveness and people saying the Steelers don’t have a chance:
It is what it is. I allow the experts to be experts. I’m not the type of guy that gets mad because somebody said something. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. People are going to say what they want to say, regardless of if they have information or details of information. They’re just going to say what they want. That’s where we’re at now in 2012. I respect that part of it. Say what you want. It has nothing to do with how we play Sunday night. I’m getting too old to worry about those things. I try to worry about the things that matter and the things that matter are me executing and doing the right thing for this team.
Is there an advantage in the fact that you haven’t played in a while and there isn’t a lot of film on you in the past few seasons?
I think everybody knows what I am. I’m a pocket passer who throws the ball from the pocket like 60-70% of the rest of the guys. You don’t have to be fast. I don’t have to run around to play. In that case, we wouldn’t call the Tom Bradys of the world elite, the Eli Mannings of the world. I’ve got to be faster than Eli. [Laughs] Guys are going to say things about you. That’s part of playing in this league. You’re going to get critiqued. The good and the bad, you’ve got to be willing to accept it. I’m willing to accept that and Sunday we’ll see. We’ve got to play the game Sunday night and it’s going to come down to who makes the most plays Sunday night, regardless of what was said on Wednesday or what people believe. Hey man, we’re going to find out Sunday night.
Tags: Byron Leftwich
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What kind of pain are you in now?
Right now standing here talking to you, I’m okay. It’s just certain movements and things are very painful.
When you were hit what was injured?
I’m not sure. I know when I hit the ground is when I heard the crunch and the crack and stuff. That’s what I know for sure. I don’t know if anything happened when he hit me.
How long are you out?
Don’t know yet. I’m going to get back as soon as I can. I know that much.
Re: The injury itself:
From what I understand, it’s the SC joint and 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.
How close did the shoulder injury come to requiring surgery?
I don’t know exactly what happens to the SC joint, if it pops out of place or it pops back in. I don’t know all of that. I just know it was a bruise or a sprain, whatever the exact word is I’m not sure. But the first rib dislocation is probably the big issue.
Any concern that this could be season-ending?
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.
Does the rib have to heal before you are safe to play?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I understand at least.
What can you do to help QB Byron Leftwich?
I have no fear because of the backups that we have. Both guys are extremely capable. Byron is a great player. He’s been doing this for a long time and I know that he’s going to go out there and give his all. I’m going to do exactly what he does for me and what Charlie [Batch] does for me, whatever they need. If he doesn’t need anything, I’m not going to give him anything. I’m not going to be in his ear and tell him to do this or do that. He knows how to play this game, he knows how to play at a high level and I’m just going to be there for whatever he needs.
Re: Ravens LB Terrell Suggs saying he was disappointed you are not playing:
I’m disappointed I’m not playing, too. It’s tough, especially playing these guys.
Have the doctors told you what or when things should happen in the healing process or what is a good sign?
I guess no pain. I don’t know. We’re just getting treatment and trying to do what we can.
Did they evaluate your rotator cuff issue as well?
Yeah, there was no issue with the rotator cuff, so that was good.
Did you feel all of the injuries at once or did the rib injury come about later?
No, like I said, when I hit the ground, I felt a crunch and a crack. It’s kind of hard to explain the feeling that you have. It all just happened at once. I don’t know if it was the hit or the landing, but I felt it more in the landing.
You said crack. Is the rib actually broken?
No. I didn’t say crack. I said the cracking feeling. Don’t get any of that mistaken. None of you have probably had this feeling when you hit the ground and something happened. It’s hard to explain it but it’s just feeling when you hit the ground that you know something is not right.
What has the pain been like?
I got four hours of sleep the last two nights. I’m sleeping in a chair. It’s very uncomfortable. Probably about a nine on a scale of 1-10.
Are you dad yet?
No, not yet. [Laughs]
Re: The play you got injured:
I stepped up and was trying to get it to Heath [Miller] and I thought the guy was trying to let Heath clear a little bit more, and when I stepped up to run, a guy kind of closed in front of me. I tried to find another exit and turned and there was a guy, just one of those freak things.
How does Leftwich’s skill set fit into this offense?
He’s got an incredible high skill level. He can make every throw. He’s very smart and he’s a great quarterback. We’re extremely happy to have him on this team, as well as Charlie. We’ve said it from day one, years of quarterback experience, and this is great to have. He’s ready to step up and I know he’s going to give it his all.
Does Leftwich have the touch to make some of the throws?
Absolutely. If he didn’t he wouldn’t be in the league for as long as he has and be as successful as he has. He can make every throw. Whether it’s a quick one or it is deep down the field. Everyone talks about him having a big arm and he does. He can make every throw on the football field.
The team is 9-5 when you don’t start, but is 0-4 against Baltimore. Are you the X-factor?
No, this is the ultimate team sport. We’re going to have another guy ready to go. It’s Byron this week. He’ll step up and he’s going to do just as good, if not better, than what I can do.
Are they giving you realistic expectations about when you will be back?
Nope. Not yet, unfortunately. From what I’ve heard in talking with the doctor yesterday and I’m going to see him here in a little while, but he said he’s trying to talk to experts because there’s no case study that’s had this exact same thing. From what he told me, it was like a 1998 rugby player or something [that had a similar injury]. We’re just trying to talk to people and get an expectation because we don’t know.
Is it the rib injury that they are trying figure out?
From what I understand, yes. It’s more of the rib that’s the concern than the SC joint.
Is there anything they can do to prevent the rib from going into the aorta?
I don’t think so. Like I said, I’m not a medical expert. I don’t know. I just have to get the answers from those guys. It’d be better to ask them. But you just have to let it heal before you can take that chance.
When did you get the word you wouldn’t play?
We can’t tell you. Coach and I have had conversations. He told you guy today. That’s when the official word came. That was the plan.
Is there any extra protection you can use to protect the injured areas when you return, other than the flak jacket?
I wear one. I wear a flak jacket and I wear rib pads. It wasn’t the hit. I think it was the way I fell that kind of pushed my elbow up into my body. I think that’s what did it.
Do you have any range of motion in the shoulder?
Yeah, I can move it around. That’s not the issue. It’s not the amount of movement. Sometimes when I do move it, the rib will kind of pop out of place again, which is pretty painful, needless to say. I’m just trying to keep it as still as I can.
Can you pop the rib back in then?
Next question please.
Are you going to be able to hold your son?
I better. I’ve got one good arm.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger
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Seven players missed practice on Wednesday, including wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), linebacker Chris Carter (abdomen), tackles Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and Max Starks (ankle), defensive end Brett Keisel (shoulder), safety Troy Polamalu (calf), and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder).
Brown said he is making progress with the ankle, and it helped sitting out the Chiefs game on Monday night.
“We are going to evaluate it to see where I am on Friday and hopefully it will be a great comeback,” said Brown. “I made a lot of progress. It’s getting better from last week. There is a little bit of pain. It’s the game of football. You have to be strong. I am hoping to be ready to get back out there soon.”
Brown said taping the ankle could possibly help it, but he still has to be comfortable making cuts.
“It depends on where the swelling is,” said Brown. “I think tape will do it justice. My game is about running and cutting so I have to make sure the ankle is ready.”
Cornerback Curtis Brown (quadriceps), safety Ryan Clark (concussion) and cornerback Ike Taylor (illness) were all limited in practice, while running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full participants.
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Roethlisberger sprained the sternoclavicular (SC) joint in his right shoulder against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was sacked by linebacker Justin Houston in the third quarter.
Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger, going 7-for-14 for 73 yards.
This will be Leftwich’s first start for the Steelers. His last start came in 2009 when he started three games while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tags: Ben Roethlsiberger, Byron Leftwich
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