Notebook: Ben, Nate, T.C. to start

LATROBE – It's not his own recovery that's surprising Ben Roethlisberger these days. "I've been pleasantly surprised how this offense is coming along," he said. "We've done a good job of really starting to gel this week."

At a morning practice earlier this week, Ben Roethlisberger was at a loss to explain why he and his receivers made the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense look so bad.

Yesterday, after he was named the starting quarterback for Saturday's preseason opener in Arizona, Roethlisberger riddled the secondary again. Of his first four throws in the red-zone drill, he threw for three touchdowns; two of them were high passes plucked out of the air in the back of the end zone by Nate Washington, who'll replace hobbled Hines Ward at flanker on Saturday.

After the second week of training camp, it's obvious Roethlisberger is ready for live action. But is he prepared to get hit?

"Not yet," he said. "I'm always apprehensive about taking a hit, regardless of whether I've been in an accident."

He's not looking for it?

"Of course not. Everyone talks about taking that first hit, but if we can avoid it that would be the best thing to do until the season starts."

Coach Bill Cowher named Roethlisberger the starter at his 11 a.m. press conference. Cowher said "he will play for a short period of time." Cowher said Charlie Batch will also see limited action, followed by Shane Boyd and then Omar Jacobs.

"I'm not looking for anything from him. He's been fine," Cowher said of Roethlisberger. "Like I said, the biggest thing, from a conditioning standpoint, is to monitor that. He lost some weight in a short period of time -- not the way that he wanted to do it -- and, really, with the accident, was not able to train as he has in the past getting ready for a training camp. But he's looked fine. He looked good out here throwing the ball."

NATE THE GREAT

Cowher was asked if he's anxious to see first-round pick Santonio Holmes play. Cowher said that instead he's anxious to watch someone else.

"Nate needs to get playing time as well, which will be good for him going against some of the top people," he said. "Nate Washington's had a great camp but when he played last preseason a lot of it was in the fourth quarter. Then he got a chance to play in the playoffs, and now let's see him get a chance to get up there and play with the first group. I think it'll be great for him."

Washington led the Steelers in receiving last preseason but didn't catch another pass until the AFC Championship game. He'll start opposite Cedrick Wilson on Saturday.

"I'm just trying to go out with a focused head and do what I have to do to get through the game and show them I can play at this level," Washington said. "Other than that, I'm not worried about starting right now. This is preseason. It's still a tryout. Any of us can start right now. I'm just trying to show them I can play at this level."

HOLMES'S TRIAL MOVED BACK

The trial date for Holmes, who's being charged with indecent assault, has been pushed back from its original date of Aug. 15 in Columbus, Ohio. The new date hasn't been confirmed, but is expected to be set near the end of the month.

INJURY REPORT

Ward (hamstring), linebacker Joey Porter (knee), tight end Jerame Tuman (hamstring), offensive tackle Trai Essex (groin), fullback Branden Joe (hamstring), center Chukky Okobi (neck), and receiver Isaac West (knee) will sit out Saturday's game.

Cowher said Tuman was hurt Wednesday and could miss a week, and that Ward, Essex, Joe and West should be back next week.

Okobi showed up at St. Vincent College without any sign of surgery. He declined to be interviewed.

FASTER WILLIE

Rookie receiver Willie Reid will return punts and kickoffs, along with Holmes. Here's what Cowher had to say about Reid's receiving skills:

"You love his approach to the game. He's got a little bit of that Antwaan [Randle El] about him with the smile on his face. I think he's still a young player that's learning. We put him in the slot and have thrown a lot at him, trying to move him around a little bit, so I think, like a young player who's not settled into one position, the more you move him around the more sometimes they start to run together a little bit. But he's getting better. I think it's one of those things that'll pay dividends down the road. Right now you'll see him do a really good thing and then he'll just blow a fuse. But it happens and there's no easy way to get there. We kind of moved Troy [Polamalu] around a lot in his first year and every now and then it would just start to get mingled in there. So I think he'll be fine. And I think we're doing it the right way, because I think in the long run he'll become a better football player because of it, but he's still going through those growing stages right now."

PUNTING CHALLENGE

Cowher confirmed that Mike Barr is a serious threat to veteran Chris Gardocki for the punting job.

"Yeah, I like Mike Barr," Cowher said. "He's got a very strong leg; very powerful leg. He's also done a good job holding, so there's no question he's a guy we're going to take a strong look at."


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