Back in Black (and Gold)

Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger returned to work, and reported improvement. LaMarr Woodley? Not so much. Read Jim Wexell's complete report from the South Side in this Wednesday notebook.

Pittsburgh – Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey both practiced full-time Wednesday and appear to be in line for duty Sunday in Cleveland.

The game is for the division championship and a first-round bye – if the Cincinnati Bengals help out by beating the Baltimore Ravens – so the fire was at least in Pouncey's eyes.

"Most definitely," he said when asked if he'll play Sunday. "And you should believe it this time."

On the other hand, Roethlisberger gave his stock response of "I'd like to play just because I like being out there."

Roethlisberger did admit that his ankle is feeling much better, and his work during practice Wednesday was proof.

Would Roethlisberger consider playing only, say, 25 to 30 snaps, as the Steelers reportedly have in mind for him?

"I don't know," Roethlisberger said. "That's probably a question for Mike [Tomlin]. We're going to go out (Wednesday) and evaluate how it feels, how I feel, and I'll let him know. If he feels comfortable enough with me being out there then I'll probably be out there.

"The pain is always going to be there," he added. "I can deal with the pain. I'm not worried about that. I think the biggest thing is not setting myself up to get hurt in other ways or hurt it worse as a sitting duck back there. It's probably not the smartest thing in the world to do, but if it's just the pain I'll deal with that."

Roethlisberger said his biggest problem with the ankle sprain remains the "weight-bearing up on my toes. That obviously involves running and throwing. That's the biggest thing, to strengthen it up on my toes."

WOODLEY? NOT SO MUCH

LaMarr Woodley remained on the sideline throughout the bulk of Wednesday's practice session and sounded like a man who wouldn't mind another week off to rest a hamstring injury that's allowed him to play in only parts of two games since Oct. 30.

"It's an injury that's going to be around for a while," said Woodley. "It's not going to be healed for the rest of the year. We all know that. It's a hamstring injury. When you think it's feeling good, even though it's not 100 percent, you still have to go out there and give it a push. There's always going to be little minor setbacks. Right now I have to be smart because now the missed games are going to be big ones in these playoffs."

Woodley is one sack away from his 10th . He and James Harrison are the only pair of pass-rushers in the league to each hit double digits in sacks the last three seasons. Harrison also enters the Browns game with nine sacks.

"If we do, cool. If we don't, cool," Woodley said. "It really doesn't matter to me. If I wouldn't have missed all these games I'd be well past that. It's not like I've been struggling all year to get 10 sacks. Injuries happen. That's the only reason the opportunity got away from me, but I still have a chance this week."

So it's important to play Sunday?

"Is it important for me?" Woodley asked as he dragged out his response. "Y-e-a-h-h-h, somewhat. Would it make sense to hold out and maybe rest this hamstring up a little more for the playoffs? Yeah, that makes more sense. We're going to play it day by day here."

IKE THE CYNIC

Count Ike Taylor among the many in the Steelers' locker room who don't trust the league and its methods. That's why he's not hurt about being snubbed for the Pro Bowl.

"From the get-go I was like, ‘I don't trust that.' And I don't trust it," said Taylor, who was asked for a reason.

"Just never did," he said. "I never did. Ever did."

Taylor has never been named to a Pro Bowl and believes this is his second-best season behind 2005, when he had one interception and 25 passes defensed.

With one game to go this season, Taylor has two interceptions and 19 passes defensed and is a third alternate for the game.

"A third alternate, I mean, come on," said free safety Ryan Clark. "You're talking about the No. 1 secondary, its No. 1 corner, who sticks to the No. 1 guy from every team we play, and plays in press man all game. For him not to get that opportunity is just unfair, and it's hard to say these things because you don't want to say the guys going didn't have great years. Those guys can play football, too. But it's just disheartening for me to see a guy who works so hard and actually plays so well to not get the opportunity."

GILBERT BACK TO RT

Marcus Gilbert was moved back to first team right tackle after he was benched last Saturday for being late to a meeting. He said he "lost track of time" and was "a couple minutes late." Teammates have said Gilbert has "issues" to work through.

Gilbert was asked if facing his stern father was more difficult than facing his head coach.

"Definitely," he said with a chuckle. "But my dad wasn't down on me at all. He was just saying move forward from it, everybody makes mistakes, and that I have to man up to it, take it like a man, and respond to it. It was just a careless mistake I happened to make and I can't let it happen again."

SENECA OR COLT?

The Browns haven't cleared Colt McCoy to return from his concussion yet, so Seneca Wallace could remain the quarterback for a third consecutive week.

Clark, the Steelers' free safety, was asked which quarterback was better.

"Seneca Wallace," he said. "I think they're the same type of guy. I just think Seneca's experience is a little bit better. And the way Colt hurt us was moving out of the pocket. If you look at the movement compared to Seneca's movement, it's a different level up. You're almost talking about a guy who's an athlete first and then a quarterback when you're speaking of Seneca. But he can also throw the ball, place the ball. If you look at their offense's production the last few weeks, it was better than it was coming into the week they were playing us with Colt."


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