Five Steelers Pro Bowlers could miss Monday

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without five of their best players when they play the 49ers on Monday night in a crucial game for both teams. All five have been Pro Bowlers, and the list includes star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and two of the past three NFL defensive players of the year from a Pittsburgh defense currently ranked second in the league – two spots ahead of the Niners.

Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker James Harrison and center Maurkice Pouncey all missed practice for a third consecutive day Thursday and their status for Monday's nationally televised inter-conference showdown between 10-3 teams remains in question.

Roethlisberger and Pouncey both have troublesome high ankle sprains. Polamalu, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has a hamstring injury. Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, has been suspended for one game by the league for his hit last Thursday that injured Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.

The other player in question is linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has missed 4¾ of the past five games with a hamstring injury, although coach Mike Tomlin said he is healing nicely.

Pouncey said this week he will play, but the final decision might not be his to make. On Thursday, Pouncey wasn't as sure, saying "I hope so," regarding his chances to play Monday.

Roethlisberger has a history of bouncing back from all kinds of injuries and playing through pain. Tomlin said the playoff ramifications, this week and going ahead, won't impact how the team decides whether Roethlisberger is fit to play.

The swelling has gone down in Roethlisberger's left ankle that he injured in last week's 14-3 victory over Cleveland. But that doesn't mean he is any closer to playing against the 49ers. Roethlisberger is hoping that more rest will help him avoid missing his first start due to injury in more than two years.

"The goal is as soon as possible to get in there and get in as much work as I can," Roethlisberger said. "If this was just a matter of pain, I'd be out there, but it's being physically unable to do certain things."

Roethlisberger may not be able to get back on the field to test the ankle until Saturday at the earliest, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said the team could wait until after warm-ups against the 49ers to make a decision.

Roethlisberger last missed a start due to injury against Baltimore two years ago, when a concussion forced him to watch Dennis Dixon play in a 20-17 overtime loss.

It will be 37-year-old veteran Charlie Batch that will get the call if Roethlisberger can't go. Pittsburgh will have both Batch and Dixon ready.

Batch has thrown only two passes this season, and Dixon hasn't been in a game. The two, however, split the four starts during Roethlisberger's suspension to start the 2010 season, and the Steelers went 3-1 with them, with Dixon winning both of his starts.

Dixon has had a disappointing two seasons. He went 2-0 as a starter during the first two games of the 2010 season but was injured in the second quarter of the second game and did not play again. He was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury that healed in a few weeks. He wasn't happy about going on IR.

Because of the new game-day roster rule, Dixon has dressed for only two games this season.

"It's very tough," he said. "Obviously, with this new rule, there's nothing you can do. I would like to, anybody would like to dress. I'm so ready, I'm so ready to prove to this team once again that I'm able to get things done if it does present itself, and I'm also looking forward to it."

Dixon will be an unrestricted free agent next season and will undoubtedly leave because he is in essence No. 4 behind Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich (who would have been No. 2 but is on IR) and Batch. Dixon wants at least an opportunity to go somewhere to be No. 2 and maybe ultimately compete for No. 1. In four seasons with the Steelers, he has thrown 59 passes.

The Steelers truly do not know if Roethlisberger will be able to play, despite the optimism by some of his teammates because they've seen him shake off injuries in the past. He last missed a game because of an injury (concussion) in 2009 in Baltimore.

The key day for Roethlisberger will be Friday. If he can go Friday, he's likely to play. It's possible that the Steelers might consider a full practice on Saturday good enough.

"If he is going to play, he is going to practice in some form or fashion," Tomlin said. "I think that's appropriate. That is just my approach to this. As we get closer to the weekend, as we deal with situational football – red zones, short yardage, goal line, third down and so on – I believe that everyone who is going to be a participant needs physical reps at those.

"Obviously, we are afforded an extra day this week being that the game is on Monday night, so we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we are just trying to get him as healthy as we can on a day-to-day basis."

Along with everybody else.

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