Roethlisberger cheered at first practice

LATROBE – It may have been the most heavily scrutinized walk down the hillside in the 45-year history of St. Vincent College training camps ...

... And by all accounts – except for a tweet here or there – Ben Roethlisberger reached the practice field without hearing a boo.

"I was nervous and scared about it," said Roethlisberger. "But it was neat to hear everyone cheer and see all of my jerseys. It was great encouragement."

Roethlisberger, of course, was accused, and then not accused, of assaulting a woman last March. Since then, he's been heavily criticized by fans and media, and Saturday afternoon was his first day of practice in front of the general public.

He feared the worst, but the reception was civil as he and Hines Ward walked past a small temporary fence that held back the thick lines of fans from the gravel pathway.

Then, it was all about football, and, just as he had in the practice that morning, Roethlisberger opened at quarterback with the first team, even though he can't play for the first month of the season.

Roethlisberger completed his first three passes before giving way to Byron Leftwich, who assumed the reigns of the first team in the next and final team scrimmage portion of practice.

"I'm up for whatever they want," Roethlisberger said during an extended interview with a large group of reporters. "I'd run the scout team if they wanted me to. It wouldn't matter to me."

Coach Mike Tomlin had said at his camp-opening press conference that he'd be "thoughtfully non-rhythmic" in his approach with the quarterback rotation, and that described his seemingly helter-skelter approach during Saturday afternoon's practice. Both Roethlisberger and Leftwich were rusty and appear to be in need of extended work. Of course, it was only the first day of training camp.

"They have to be ready to go at a moment's notice," Tomlin explained. "So sometimes they fall victim to my whims, and that's OK."

Tomlin said there was nothing symbolic about using Roethlisberger first, but Roethlisberger appreciated it.

"It felt good," he said. "The linemen and the receivers and running backs, everyone kind of said it was good to have me in there, so it felt pretty special."

Roethlisberger was asked about his goal, and he said, "To be the best." And to that end, he's reported to camp "in the best shape," he said.

"I feel better than I ever have. I've spent a lot of time working out, every night up here working out, and I have to do it because I want to be the best."

Roethlisberger admitted to being "nervous and scared and anxious" before the first public practice.

"It makes you human when you are scared," he said. "It's going to be challenging, and there are more challenges ahead of us. But the football is my escape, my getaway. All of us, we come down here and between the lines it's just us, and that's what is special about this team and this job."

When asked if he had anything to say to Steelers fans, Roethlisberger said, "I am about to go talk to them right now in person."

When the interview ended, that's what he did.

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