Batch the man -- for now

PITTSBURGH – Byron Leftwich could feel Ben Roethlisberger's pain all the way down in Jacksonville, Florida.

"That's exactly how I broke my leg in college," said Leftwich, the Jaguars' quarterback. "That was exactly the situation. I was looking at the game and I went ooh."

Leftwich fractured his left shin during a game, missed a play, returned for a nine-play touchdown drive, was taken in for X-rays, and came back to finish the game. He rallied Marshall over Akron as linemen carried him down the field after pass completions. He played four more games with the fracture.

When told the Steelers spent the day teaching Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings how to carry Roethlisberger, Leftwich just laughed.

Roethlisberger didn't laugh much Wednesday, but he was upbeat. He didn't practice, and was listed as doubtful with a hyperextended knee, but thinks there's a chance he can play Sunday against the Jaguars.

"Yesterday I was on crutches all day," Roethlisberger said. "I'm actually walking today so I'm making a little bit of improvement. I'm going to do everything I can to try and throw the ball a little bit (Thursday) and see how it feels."

Roethlisberger took a hit from San Diego lineman Luis Castillo late in Monday night's win over the Chargers and thought he was badly hurt. But he explained that by collapsing his right leg, he fell backwards and thinks that may have spared him severe damage.

As Dr. Jim Bradley examined Roethlisberger's knee on the sideline, the players stood around and admired the replay on the scoreboard.

"Someone kept saying ‘Look at the Jumbotron! Look how bad it looks!' So that didn't give me very good confidence," Roethlisberger said.

Bradley told Roethlisberger he was optimistic, and the MRI proved the doctor right: There was no damage to the ligament. Roethlisberger was asked if it was similar to the minor knee injuries he sustained last year.

"It's a different kind of pain," he said. "When I had those, I had fluid on my knee and with this one I don't really have fluid on my knee. It's disappointing to have, but there is good news on the injury."

Roethlisberger said it's important for him to play, if he can, just to prove to his teammates that he's reliable, a worthy leader.

"So I'm going to do whatever it takes," he said. "If that means playing through pain, I'm going to do it."

Roethlisberger missed Wednesday's practice, but Tommy Maddox overcame last week's calf injury to join Charlie Batch in the workout.

"I didn't think I'd be back this quick," said Maddox. "But even by Sunday, when I came in for treatment before the team left, I started feeling a lot better. It started healing pretty quick. I feel good. I think as the week goes on it'll get stronger and stronger."

However, judging by yesterday's practice, Batch would get the call if Roethlisberger can't play.

"Right now, I'm the guy preparing to play this week," said Batch. "I'll go out and prepare that way and get the timing down with the receivers and make sure I get the verbiage called with the plays. Once you get the game plan down, everything just becomes natural at that point."

Once the fair-haired boy of the Detroit Lions' organization, Batch, the 31-year-old Homestead native, has thrown only eight passes since coming to the Steelers in 2002. Injuries have wrecked a career that had begun with so much promise. He had a won-loss record of 19-18 his first three seasons before an 0-9 run in 2001 precipitated his departure.

Batch injured his knee Aug. 13, 2004 and missed last season. He came back to camp as a long shot to make the team, but impressed coaches with a solid preseason showing.

"I'm ready to start," he said. "I came in today preparing that way and I was able to go through practice getting all the reps that I needed. I'm feeling comfortable and getting back into the groove of things."

NOTES – Besides Roethlisberger, missing Wednesday's practice were CB Ricardo Colclough (shoulder), LB Clark Haggans (groin), LB James Harrison (groin), WR Hines Ward (hamstring) and WR Antwaan Randle El (knee).

Colclough and Haggans are listed as out; Harrison, Maddox and Ward are questionable; Clint Kriewaldt (knee) and Randle El are probable.

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