Roethlisberger back, awaiting word

Ben Roethlisberger, sinking in popularity in western Pennsylvania and around the NFL, rejoined the Steelers this week and now awaits word on if he will receive any punishment for his off-field escapades.

The quarterback had stayed away from workouts with his teammates until Georgia investigators decided not to prosecute him after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her. He then met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York the following day, Tuesday, and was back with the Steelers at their training facility Wednesday.

He is expected to take the field with them Monday and Wednesday when coach Mike Tomlin holds his first OTA practices. Whether he will be permitted to take the field when the Steelers open the season in September at Heinz Field is still unknown.

Many expect Goodell to suspend him for anywhere between 2 and 4 games. Bodog.com has placed the over-under odds on his suspension at 1.5 games. It's unlikely the Steelers can issue any kind of suspension because it probably would not stand scrutiny of the special master on appeal, and the NFLPA would surely appeal it even if Roethlisberger did not.

Goodell said he will "make a decision in the near future" on Roethlisberger. Goodell is his own appeals judge, so he could make a suspension stand up under his orders even though Roethlisberger has never been charged with a crime. He has been sued in civil court in Nevada by a woman who claimed sexual assault, although she never went to the police. Roethlisberger has counter-sued her.

Either way, Roethlisberger has lost respect and his popularity in Pittsburgh. Only time will determine if he can regain it. He's also lost at least one endorsement, Big Ben's Beef Jerky. PLB Sports, a Pittsburgh maker of sports specialty items, terminated its contract with Roethlisberger the day after Georgia authorities decided not to charge him with sexual assault. The jerky was Roethlisberger's first endorsement as a rookie in 2004.

"We have taken the product off the website, we have stopped production of the product, and have no plans to reinstate," company president Ty Ballou said.

One more thing he lost was Santonio Holmes, his favorite deep target when the Steelers traded the troubled wide receiver to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft choice.

"Dealing with his situation right now, no one really knows the facts on what happened, how it went down, it's all word of mouth that's being spread around," Holmes said of Roethlisberger's Georgia experience. "I'm pretty sure he's got a group of great guys in his corner that's going to have his back. We both talked right after it hit the media, with both our situations, we gave each other great feedback and great encouragement that we're going to stick beside each other no matter what. I think he's going to be OK though."

NOTES, QUOTES

* Kicker Jeff Reed signed his franchise tender for $2,814,000.

"It's our goal to try to keep working and see him stay for a long time in Pittsburgh," agent Don Henderson said. "They told us that's what they want and that's what we want. They've been dealing with us and talking to us. Hopefully, we'll sign a long-term contract and he will remain in Pittsburgh."

* Mike Wallace, who led the NFL with a 19.4-yard average per catch during his rookie season in 2009 with 39 receptions for 756 yards, should take over Santonio Holmes' old starting split end spot with Hines Ward at flanker. The Steelers signed veteran free agents Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle.

"I think obviously Santonio was a game-changer, a big-time player," tight end Heath Miller said. "At the same time we have guys talented in their own right and I'll be excited to see how they compete and work and I know they are more than capable of getting the job done."

* None of the Steelers RFAs signed elsewhere: offensive tackle Willie Colon, cornerback William Gay, tight end Matt Spaeth and punter Daniel Sepulveda. Colon and Gay are starters.

"There are no negotiations," said Colon's agent, Joe Linta. "The Steelers have shown no interest or desire to sign Willie to a long-term contract and that's certainly their prerogative."

Colon, under the current working agreement, will be a restricted free agent again next March.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "My job is in Ireland." -- Ambassador Dan Rooney's response when asked about recent off-field escapades by some of the Steelers.

TEAM NEEDS

With the trade of Holmes for a fifth-round draft pick to the New York Jets, the Steelers have 11 draft choices, four in the fifth round.

* Cornerback: Even though the Steelers drafted corners in the third (Keenan Lewis) and fifth rounds (Joe Burnett) last season, they got woeful play at the position and could lose veteran UFA Deshea Townsend, although there's been little interest in him around the league. Mainstay Ike Taylor is in the last year of his contract and William Gay seemed in over his head in his first season as a starter. None of their corners is anywhere near Pro Bowl caliber.

* Defensive line: Although they re-signed NT Casey Hampton and drafted DE on first round last season, the Steelers' three starters are all in their 30s and they need to groom someone to take over for Hampton and one DE over the next two years. The good news is that this is a deep draft for defensive tackles and those often are the ones who convert to end for the Steelers' 3-4, so they may be able to get one in the third or fourth round, although they have struck out often when drafting a lineman after the first round for years.

* Linebacker: The Steelers added some depth with the signing of ILB Larry Foote but James Farrior will be 35 this season and James Harrison 32. They need one more linebacker for the future, even though they re-signed Larry Foote, 30, to play inside again. Lawrence Timmons hasn't shown much in scattered appearances outside, but he's the top replacement there.

* Running back: Rashard Mendenhall starts, but Pittsburgh needs a No. 2 to complement him and take over if injured, and they really have no one to do that now. Mewelde Moore can fill in on occasion but he's not really what they want. They'd also like to continue to use Mendenhall on third downs. They also need to improve their short-yardage rushing.

* Offensive line: Steelers need to find a future center and a dominant tackle or guard because they have none in what is a mediocre line across the board.


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