Notebook: The Roethlisberger diaries

<b>LATROBE -</b> Ben Roethlisberger couldn't believe his good fortune when, on his first play at St. Vincent College, he saw Plaxico Burress breaking free behind Willie Williams in the corner of the end zone.<br><br> Roethlisberger overthrew him.

"I overthrew him because I was so excited," said the Steelers' first-round draft pick. "I came back and got him the next time. The butterflies were gone."

Roethlisberger missed out on what would've been an enduring bit of symbolism, but his next pass went to Burress for 19 yards to the 1-yard line. Roethlisberger went on to enjoy an efficient first practice. He had another potential touchdown pass swatted away at the last second by Chad Scott and was not intercepted.

"He looked fine to me," said Burress. "I don't have no complaints."

"I dusted the rust off a little bit," said Roethlisberger. "It's good to be back out here."

Roethlisberger missed four practices before signing a six-year contract Tuesday afternoon. At Wednesday morning's practice, he completed roughly half of his 10 passes, and at Wednesday night's practice at Latrobe Stadium, the big-armed rookie showed off his athletic ability and impressed Coach Bill Cowher.

"I think the biggest challenge for Ben is going to be kind of getting out of the huddle with some of the verbiage, and he's getting better with that," Cowher said. "He sees the field well. You saw his athletic ability tonight on the bootleg when he got outside. He's fine."

His best play of the day may have been an incompletion at the morning practice. Defensive end Aaron Smith shot past rookie tackle Max Starks, but Roethlisberger avoided Smith by stepping up in the pocket and sliding to his right. Throwing on the run, Roethlisberger threw a 15-yard strike to Freddie Milons, in traffic, but the ball bounced off Milons' chest and to the ground.

Afterward, Roethlisberger was surrounded by reporters. He was asked if he sensed all eyes on him during practice.

"Well, there's quite a few on me right now," he said. "No, it doesn't matter to me. It's about more than one person. I'm out here just trying to mesh in with the other guys."

Clark Haggans has been out with broken fingers, and his replacement, Alonzo Jackson, missed both of Wednesday's practices with a strained back. Jackson's replacement at left outside linebacker, fifth-round rookie Nathaniel Adibi, missed the morning practice because of dehydration. That left Dedrick Roper, an undrafted free agent out of Northwood University, a Division II school in Michigan.

"Dedrick Roper's had a very good camp," said Cowher, his second commendation in two days. Roper started at left outside linebacker for the Steelers yesterday and was pleased with a performance that included an imaginary sack of Tommy Maddox in the morning.

"It was definitely a sack," said Roper. "But you know you can't touch him so I just ran by him."

The previous day, Roper (6-2, 256) took reps with the second and third teams, as well as with the scout punt and punt block teams.

"It was a real gut check," he said. "That's when I realized this is a man's game and I just have to keep going hard at it."

Before camp, Roper was considered a legitimate dark horse to earn a job with the Steelers. He'd led the Great Lakes Conference in tackles-for-loss last season with 19.5 and was second with 10 sacks. He played defensive end in Northwood's 4-3 alignment after playing outside linebacker in Michigan State's 4-3 for three years. He transferred from MSU prior to the 2002 season.

With the Steelers, he's making the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker and was satisfied with his performance yesterday.

"I think I did pretty well, particularly with my pass rush," he said. "That's my bread and butter right there."

The night practice at Latrobe concluded with the first of three camp goal-line sessions. The first-team defense stopped the first-team offense, which ran the ball four times, starting at the 5-yard line. The highlight of the series was Chris Hope's tackle of Jerome Bettis on third down at the one-yard line.

"I never hit Jerome," said Hope as he rubbed a sore shoulder. "I'm a little tipsy but I'm alright. It's all part of the game."

On fourth down, Bettis lost yardage after James Farrior led a gang tackle on the offense's right side.

The second-team offense scored in two plays. Verron Haynes carried both times. He was helped on his 2-yard touchdown run by a block down from right tackle Todd Fordham and a block from pulling left guard Keydrick Vincent.

"I liked it," said Cowher. "We took all the passing out of the goal line and made it mano a mano."

Cowher was particularly pleased with the play made by Hope.

"Chris Hope's had a good camp. He really has. Every day he seems to make a play. His confidence level is very high. He's taken control and he's really stepped up."

On the injury front, back-up nose tackle Kendrick Clancy (calf) is expected to miss four weeks. Mike Logan missed last night's practice because of fluid on his knee. Kendrell Bell (back) and Jackson (back) were held out as precautionary measures.

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