Ben sure he'll start preseason opener

LATROBE – Coach Bill Cowher will have to "hold me back" from starting the preseason opener Aug. 12 in Arizona, according to Ben Roethlisberger. His confidence is surging after a Wednesday night practice under the lights ...

... at a high-school stadium in downtown Latrobe.

The next morning Roethlisberger was his old confident self with a mob of reporters, a departure from his first post-practice interview this training camp. When asked then if he'd be able to play in the preseason opener, Roethlisberger simply said "that's always coach's call."

The turning point came Wednesday night. In front of a record crowd at Memorial Stadium, Roethlisberger looked like the Roethlisberger of old.

"Yeah, he's the same quarterback," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt after the impressive showing.

"To be in comeback form like he was last night, so soon after the accident, speaks volumes about who he is," said receiver Hines Ward. "He didn't lose a beat. He looked good."

Roethlisberger showed marked improvement with his arm strength, and also flashed his ability to throw on the run – and across his body – that marked his first two seasons in the league. Roethlisberger's most impressive pass came off a scramble when he zipped the ball to Ward on the opposite sideline. Roethlisberger also feathered a deep pass between linebacker Larry Foote and Troy Polamalu into the arms of Quincy Morgan.

"Everything feels pretty good," Roethlisberger said. "My arm feels good. I feel like it's coming along well. It's better than it has been in previous camps."

Teammates in the spring had hoped another year of experience would further the development of a quarterback with a 27-4 record in his two regular seasons in the league. But a June 12 motorcycle accident put those hopes on hold.

The Wednesday night performance eased any fears.

"He made some great throws," said Whisenhunt. "He made some strong throws down the field so it was exciting."

"The only thing now is if he gets hit. What happens then?" said Ward. "But Ben's a competitor, a warrior."

Cowher said his decision on the Aug. 12 starting quarterback won't be made until next week, but if it were up to Whisenhunt, Roethlisberger would start.

"Everything is normal again so I would expect him to play," Whisenhunt said. "He's the same quarterback. Obviously, not having worked out in four or five weeks dropped his conditioning back, so sometimes he gets tired in practice and with his throws he can't drive with his legs as much, but that's normal. That's not anything that's out of the ordinary with a quarterback."

What of his development as a field general?

"He really had a good spring as far as recognizing things and understanding what was going on," Whisenhunt said. "(Wednesday) night was good for him. He's doing very well."

Roethlisberger may be even more mobile than he was last season when he weighed close to 250 pounds. He's down to 235 and is using the added quickness to his advantage. But at Thursday's practice, Roethlisberger was perhaps too confident. He scrambled right and threw back across his body to the other side of the field, where linebacker James Harrison intercepted the pass intended for Willie Parker.

"That's nothing," said tight end Heath Miller. "I know his arm has taken a little while to get back in shape, and I'm sure he's still working on it. I think maybe (Wednesday) night was a good stage for a lot of folks to see him and say, oh, okay, he's the same guy, he's still number seven, he's still going to do the same stuff."

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