With Batch hurt, Ben at the ready

<b>LATROBE -</b> Before his first college game, Ben Roethlisberger made the same statement he made yesterday in advance of his first pro game.<br><br> He likes to get that first hit out of the way.

"I know I said that in college," said the rookie quarterback of the Steelers. "Well, the first hit broke my nose, so that wasn't such a good thing to say."

Roethlisberger missed a play, came back and didn't come out again over the next three years at Miami, Ohio. It led to his selection in the first round by the Steelers in the last draft. His next step is to take the field Saturday at Detroit in the Steelers' preseason opener against the Lions.

Roethlisberger will play more than he'd expected earlier in the week because of an injury to Charlie Batch. Yesterday, the Steelers' second-team quarterback underwent an MRI, which revealed "a loose body in his knee," according to Coach Bill Cowher.

Batch is expected to miss at least two to three weeks.

Cowher said Tommy Maddox would start at quarterback and play the first quarter, with "Ben and Brian (St. Pierre) playing the rest, and probably in that order," Cowher said.

So Roethlisberger will play in Detroit, near Ann Arbor, where he made his college football debut and learned early just how rough the game can be.

"First series, first game," he said of his broken nose. "He happened to hit me, my helmet came down and next thing you know blood was running down my face so I missed a play."

Family and friends from Findlay, Ohio, will make the trek for Roethlisberger preseason debut at the pro level. They'll watch a rookie quarterback who is just beginning to learn the playbook.

"He's not going to get overwhelmed by it," said Cowher. "If there's one thing I like about him, it's the way he approaches the game. He runs around in practice and improvises and makes plays. I think the biggest thing for him is that Kenny (Whisenhunt) is not standing next to him in the huddle."

Roethlisberger doesn't believe it'll be a problem.

"He won't be able to stand next to me, but he'll be in my ear," he said of Whisenhunt, the Steelers' offensive coordinator. "It's a new offense, something I have to learn. I've been doing a lot of it and I think I've been coming a long way and making a lot of progress with it."

Roethlisberger's greatest asset in camp has been the way he combines his mobility with his strong arm. He's been able to throw on the run with accuracy, just as he had in college.

Executing the called play, however, will be another story.

"I'm just going to go play football," said the 6-5, 241-pounder. "That's what got me here is playing football. That's what I do best, so that's what I'm going to have to do -- try not to think too much and just go out and play."

Cowher said most of the starters will play about a quarter, but those in the secondary can expect to play longer.

With first-team cornerbacks Chad Scott (abdominal strain) and Deshea Townsend (groin) out with minor injuries, second-year pro Ike Taylor and veteran Willie Williams are expected to start and second-round draft pick Ricardo Colclough will be the nickel back. Taylor and Colclough, in particular, will see extensive duty.

The only other starter Cowher ruled out is free safety Chris Hope, who injured his shoulder tackling Jerome Bettis over a week ago. Hope has practiced sparingly since, but is expected back next week. He'll be replaced in the lineup by veteran defensive back Mike Logan.

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