Roethlisberger could've had even more fun with his jersey choice

Jim Wexell with a big, fat, fun and no doubt bloated notebook off the Steelers' Labor Day workout

The Steelers' Labor Day practice was a bit odd in that there was another burger on the grill. And newcomer Zach Mettenberger wore No. 7 while Ben Roethlisberger wore No. 5.

Roethlisberger has been known to honor players such as Bruce Gradkowski, the former No. 5 who was placed on injured reserve last week.

But that was only a part of it.

"A little bit for Bruce, obviously, and Mettenberger's been 7 so I wanted him to feel comfortable," Roethlisberger explained.

Mettenberger wore No. 7 with the Tennessee Titans.

"I wanted him to be comfortable," Roethlisberger said, "be a little silly, and then also be with Bruce. Also, figured Coach T would want him to have 7 anyway. It's his kind of guy."


Anyway, Roethlisberger had the equipment man place the jersey at Mettenberger's locker.

Here's how Mettenberger reacted: "I was wondering at first. 'Oh, where the hell's my jersey? Guys, I know I'm new.' It was like, 'Oh, Ben's messing with you. You're going to have to wear his jersey out there today.' It was just one of those things you kind of roll with."

Roethlisberger actually wanted to wear No. 12 to honor his father, Ken Roethlisberger, who wore it as a quarterback at Georgia Tech from 1974-75.

"But I figured 12 would ruffle too many feathers," said Roethlisberger. "So I was looking for the next best number and I figured it's the best way to honor Bruce, too. He's a guy I'm going to miss."

Wearing No. 12, which hasn't been worn by a Steelers player since Terry Bradshaw retired following the 1983 season, would've no doubt caused a media blowout.

"Yeah, and I didn't want to do that," Roethlisberger said. "Even though it was for my dad and not for Terry no one would've believed me I'm sure."

* How is Roethlisberger's relationship with Bradshaw?

"It's cordial, I guess," Roethlisberger said. "I've never had an issue with him."

The two reportedly patched up any differences -- perceived or otherwise -- prior to Super Bowl 45, when Bradshaw and Roethlisberger spoke privately before doing a TV interview.

"I've always been open and have communicated when I've seen him," Roethlisberger said. "I just kind of keep my distance, if you will, just because I think that's what he wants."

Roethlisberger has broken all of Bradshaw's team passing records except for two: most interceptions (Bradshaw 210-147) and most championships (Bradshaw 4-2).

Perhaps the two would raise a toast if Roethlisberger wins his fourth with Pittsburgh.

"Yeah, maybe," Roethlisberger said with a laugh. "I still say he's the best. I have no hard feelings towards him."

* The one question Roethlisberger couldn't answer is when his neighbor Markus Wheaton -- the scheduled starter opposite Antonio Brown -- would return from a thigh injury that's had him on and off the practice field since minicamp.

"Honestly, I don't know what's going on," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know how healthy he is. I'd love to know something, because that's a big part of what I want to do."

* This media mob HAS to be circled around newcomer Justin Gilbert, I thought, but once I got past the outer layers I noticed they were talking to Mettenberger, the new third-team QB.

We all know that no one loves to talk about the third-team QB more than Steelers fans.

And Mettenberger used to be one growing up in Watkinsville, Ga.

"Yeah, I was kind of the only Steelers fan in Georgia," Mettenberger said. "Everyone else was kind of a Falcons fan. The 'Dirty Bird' was pretty big and I was the only guy representing the Steelers back then."

Mettenberger probably got on the bandwagon when he visited his extended family on his father's side.

"My dad is from Steubenville, Ohio," he said. "So I have a lot of family and tradition here in this area. I want to make everyone in my dad’s hometown proud. That’s a big thing in this area."

* Roethlisberger's remark about Mettenberger being Mike Tomlin's "kind of guy" flew right past me until I listened to the tape, so I didn't get the chance to ask Ben what he meant by it.

The only question that went through my mind was this: Did Tomlin joke about Mettenberger having the higher passer rating in his only game against the Steelers and Roethlisberger?

After reading the Mettenberger transcript, I doubt it.

Q: Did your performance against the Steelers when you played for Tennessee play into them signing you?

A: "It hasn’t come up," Mettenberger said. "I would like to think so. Obviously Kevin Colbert saw something he liked about me and brought me in. All I can do now is work hard and show that he made the right choice."

* Speaking of news flying right past me, I missed the other big topic of the day, that rookie Javon Hargrave -- the newly named first-team nose tackle -- had left practice with a "tweak" in his knee. I talked to Cam Heyward, who confirmed that he returned to practice, and Stephon Tuitt, who confirmed that Ricardo Mathews and Dan McCullers had returned to practice, but neither mentioned Hargave's injury.

Like everyone else, I'll be interested in what Tomlin has to say about it at his noon press conference today. Then again, since the Steelers are opening on a Monday night, Tomlin may wait another two days because the first injury report isn't due until Thursday.

* Is Heyward still on pace to play Monday night at Washington?

"Yup," he said.

Did he practice on Labor Day?

"I did a couple of things," Heyward said. "Moving in the right direction."

Was it hard to move out there?

"No. I'm limited a little bit but by game time I'll be good."

Are you guaranteeing you'll be playing?


Guaranteeing it?

"Well, let's just say I'll be close. Very close."

* Tuitt talked about Hargrave's ascension to the top of the depth chart, but realizes it doesn't mean he's going to start the game even if he's healthy. The Steelers might open in their nickel and the first rookie to start a Steelers opener since Ryan Shazier would be safety Sean Davis.

Or would Hargrave start as a defensive tackle in the nickel? Or, would the man next to Tuitt be Heyward or Ricardo Mathews?

"The coaches like to mix it up," said Tuitt. "It depends on the feel for how people play with each other."

* After thanking Tuitt for the answer, he asked about my daughter. She's a junior in high school and is looking at colleges. I told him that the dream of her playing soccer at Notre Dame is probably over.

"That's OK," he said. "I don't think anyone should go to Notre Dame right now."

Tuitt, of course, is a normally proud Notre Dame alumnus who was sick to his stomach the morning after his former team's overtime loss to Texas. And like every last one of the rest of the Notre Dame fandom, Tuitt felt QB DeShone Kizer shouldn't have been repeatedly pulled out of the game in some type of ridiculous rotation.

I asked Tuitt what he thought about Coach Brian Kelly.

"No comment," he said.

* "I would draft that dude from LSU!" Maurkice Pouncey hollered down the row of lockers to his buddy Ramon Foster.

I took a sharp turn, not just because I enjoy talking NFL draft with these guys, but in particular LSU offensive lineman Josh Boutte had caught my eye. He was ejected and suspended for his vicious blow to the head of a Wisconsin defensive back who had intercepted LSU's final chance in the opener. The DB went down after the pick, but got up and began running again. That's when Boutte blasted him in the head. I thought I had been the only one whose interest in Boutte was piqued because of his "nastiness" or "ability to finish" or whatever terms scouts use to describe O-linemen.

So, I turned to Pouncey and said, "I would draft him, too. He just needs reined in a bit."

"Yeah, just get him to chill a bit and you've got yourself a guy," Pouncey said with a big smile.

* If you listen closely to the video above, you might be able to decipher Foster saying to the rest of the team that he'd like to introduce "Deebo Two," also known as Jordan Dangerfield.

I wanted to get more background on this great nickname for the safety who was finally promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, but I just missed Dangerfield at his locker. Maybe Wednesday.

Senquez Golson was in the locker room in a walking boot for his injured foot. Remember that Golson underwent surgery on a Lisfranc injury and startled reporters recently by saying he would be back 10 weeks from the surgery, which would be Oct. 17, and guaranteed us he would return no later than the end of November.

That was met with wonderment by those who believe such a recovery takes, on average, four months.

But the Steelers over the weekend kept Golson on the active roster and put Bud Dupree on IR. Since they're only allowed to bring one player back from IR at midseason, obviously they're hoping they can have both Golson and Dupree healthy in the second half of the season. The Steelers' actions seem to indicate Golson wasn't overly optimistic about his return.

Just to make sure, I wanted to re-visit Golson's guarantee and I asked again if he had indeed undergone surgery.

"Yeah," he said.

Is he still looking at returning in mid-October?

"That's what I'm thinking."

But definitely by the end of November?

"OH, yes," he said with an emphasis on "OH."

Have they told you they're keeping a roster spot open for you?

"They're just playing it by ear to see what's going to happen."

Have you ever heard of what they did with Rod Woodson?


Back in 1995, Woodson tore an ACL in the opener. But the Steelers kept him on their active roster and he returned to play in the Super Bowl.

Golson laughed. "Just going to play it by ear right now," he said. "Things are going pretty good. I'm ahead of schedule."

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