OTA No. 9 -- Return of Roethlisberger

SCI.com publisher Jim Wexell gives his thoughts and makes some notes on each of the Steelers' OTA workouts spring. Here's the ninth installment:

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger returned to the field for OTA No. 9, and in a fine coincidence Byron Leftwich – who had been quarterbacking the first unit – missed the workout with a previous engagement, so Roethlisberger stepped right into his old spot with the Number Ones.

Looking as if he'd lost some of the excess weight that was evident at his mid-March locker-room press conference, Roethlisberger stepped under center and completed his first pass in team scrimmage, a skinny post to Arnaz Battle. Roethlisberger's next pass was dropped by Heath Miller, before he connected with Antwaan Randle El and Mike Wallace to complete his reunion with the first-team receivers.

Roethlisberger, of course, was rusty and some of his passes wobbled harmlessly to the ground, but it was to be expected for a quarterback who hasn't participated in the six OTAs and five minicamp practices since being suspended by the league. Roethlisberger will continue to work at the voluntary sessions, and will then work at training camp before going back on suspension for at least the first four weeks of the regular seasons.

"Great," was the way QB Coach Randy Fichtner summed up Roethlisberger's day. "He came back in refreshed, was excited about being in the meetings, took what we talked about in the meetings out onto the field, looked like he hadn't missed a whole lot when he was in individual drills, and did a nice job being a leader and playing the position."

Roethlisberger didn't talk to the media, but his teammates were mobbed by local and national reporters. Left tackle Max Starks summed it up with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Everything's business at this point," Starks said. "I haven't talked to him. He seemed to have a nice disposition. He came out here eager, ready to go, ready to perform."

Was there a palpable buzz with the team?

"No, no difference," Starks said. "Coming out here on a Tuesday it was muggy and the sun finally broke, but it was business as usual."

Starks was asked about Roethlisberger's knowledge of any of this season's new offensive installations.

"I don't think it's about catching up too much," Starks said. "We have the same offensive coordinator and pretty much the same staff. There are a couple of new pieces, but the terminology and the play calls are pretty much the same. We revived a couple of old plays, which he's familiar with running."

It appeared that the Steelers added some new screen plays, but Starks said with a chuckle, "It's actually the same ones; we were just actually running them."

The quarterbacks threw: 1.) a bubble screen to Mike Wallace; 2.) a quick-developing traditional screen to Jonathan Dwyer; 3.) the old fake right, look left, whirl back to the right, full dervish screen to Rashard Mendenhall; and 4.) a middle tight end screen to Heath Miller.

All of the screens worked well, except for No. 3, which was stopped behind the line when Lawrence Timmons knocked the helmet from Mendenhall's head. Otherwise, the execution was crisp.

"We actually made it easier," Starks said. "Every week we were trying to make it complex and change them, so now we just go with the base rules and stick to the principles, which is the way we like to run them. It makes it easier for the offensive line to go out and just blow somebody up."

Other notes and nuances from Tuesday's workout:

* Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wore jersey No. 99 to honor Brett Keisel. LeBeau is doing this as a type of payback to those he feels helped him make the Hall of Fame.

* Missing practice along with Leftwich were James Harrison, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark. Still sidelined are Justin Hartwig and Hines Ward. Doug Legursky returned to his spot at center with the first team.

* WR Brandon London came close to making the catch of the day again, but rookie corner Crezdon Butler – running with London step for step – went up and knocked Charlie Batch's pass away at the high point.

* Randle El put a late move on CB Joe Burnett to get a step deep down the field, but Dennis Dixon overthrew him.

* In punt return drills, the coaching point of interest was the jammers and gunners. Keenan Lewis and Bryant McFadden were first jammers up over Anthony Madison and Arnaz Battle. The second set had Butler and William Gay lined up over Burnett and Antonio Brown. The only interesting note was, when Butler lined up as the jammer over Lewis, Lewis grabbed the rookie's jersey and swum past him to burst down the field and make the play on the other side.

* The play caused these notes on Lewis: "A no-nonsense, nasty player." As those words were being written, Lewis engaged another rookie, Brown, in an entertaining post-play fight that had to be broken up by teammates.

* In the collision of the day, Eugene Bright ran into Keyaron Fox after catching a pass over the middle. Neither player was hurt, but Fox had to see at least a few imaginary stars.


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