Tide rises for all with return of Steelers QB

It's at long last over, and all of the Steelers expect to benefit from the return of Ben Roethlisberger.

PITTSBURGH – It was seemingly the longest and most contentious offseason in Steelers history, but it officially comes to an end today when Ben Roethlisberger returns from his suspension to play quarterback at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns.

The NFL will benefit by the return of a star quarterback, the Steelers will benefit by the return of their best offensive player, and, of course, the fans will benefit because the Steelers are once again championship contenders.

But, on the field, which of the Steelers will benefit the most?

Last spring, when Roethlisberger's well-chronicled incident first broke, the quarterback didn't practice until the final week of OTAs. Then, Antwaan Randle El received the bulk of Roethlisberger's throws.

"No question," said Randle El. "And I could be that guy again. But the way I look at it is that we all could be that guy the way the offense is designed."

In the previous game, against the Ravens, Hines Ward in particular roamed free throughout the secondary and would've benefited from Roethlisberger's expertise and accuracy on several key downs. Ward could certainly benefit today, particularly against a Browns team he's scorched five times for over 100 yards receiving.

"It could be Hines," Randle El said. "But he wasn't the only one open a lot last game. I was open a lot. Mike (Wallace) came open, of course. Hines was open. Everybody was open."

Wallace, the Steelers' deep threat, was the first recipient of a Roethlisberger pass at the first practice following the Ravens game. It was a bomb that Roethlisberger put right in Wallace's hands, and it was reported by the media horde of in attendance.

"I think coach called that to lead everyone on," said Wallace. "Everyone's probably going to get the ball more this week except for me."

Wallace laughed and then continued. "I won't have a problem with that, as long as we win."

Wallace, of course, is the speed demon who opens up the middle of the field for Randle El, Ward, and tight end Heath Miller. In fact, Wallace is so fast that last year Roethlisberger underthrew him all too frequently.

"I think it was because I was the third or fourth option a lot and by the time he looked at me, I was already down the field," Wallace said. "But now he's looking at me earlier and it gives me a better chance to run under something."

Wallace reports that Roethlisberger was "on the money, every pass," throughout the last two weeks of practice. "I think he's really fired up right now. He's been completing everything everywhere."

Does that mean a rushing attack with 23 fewer carries than at the same point last season, but with 114 more yards and a comparative per-rush average of 4.3 to 2.9, will be put back on the shelf?

"I don't think so," said Randle El. "I wasn't here last year, but I know we have a running game now and I don't think it's going to disappear at all."

The all-important offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, agreed.

"We are who we are right now," said Arians. "We'll probably stay within who we are and let (Roethlisberger) feel his way into it and see what happens."

But, of course, Arians can't be blamed for wanting to play a bit with his new toy.

"I'm excited to see him play," Arians said. "From what I saw in camp, it was by far his best. I think he's more than ready."

So is everyone else.


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