PITTSBURGH – Maurkice Pouncey dropped his customary “Yeah, I’m playing!” bravado to a mere “I hope so” on Thursday as the center has made little progress with his high-ankle sprain.
Troy Polamalu kept his monk-like silence about his injury, but the sense is he’ll shake off his hamstring strain and return to practice today.
Of course, James Harrison is suspended, with an answer to his appeal due “by the weekend” according to the league. Oddsmakers put Harrison’s chances as Doubtful.
Any other Pro Bowlers who might miss Monday night’s game at 10-3 San Francisco?
Oh, Ben Roethlisberger. That’s right.
The Steelers’ leader and quarterback moved out of his boot – “just for stretches at a time” – and was fitted for a new type of plastic ankle brace which the training staff ordered from out of state yesterday.
That’s IF Roethlisberger can play with the high-sprain in the left ankle, and that’s a big IF.
“Today there would be no chance,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. “But I’ve seen him recover in the past. We hope that he makes that kind of progress in the next three or four days.”
Arians said Roethlisberger’s status could remain in a state of flux all the way up until the team sees him in pre-game warm-ups.
“Adrenaline does funny things sometimes,” Arians said. “Wait and see. He doesn’t need a whole lot of snaps. The game plan doesn’t change. We’ve played 3-4 defenses in the past. You’d like to see him practice just to know that he’s ready, but that decision will be coach’s.”
Roethlisberger admitted the decision wasn’t his, but coach Mike Tomlin’s.
“If I’m not out there it’ll probably be because they weren’t comfortable with me being able to protect myself,” said Roethlisberger. “They know better than I do. I can just tell them whether I think I can go or not, and I think I can go all the time. I’m going to do everything I can to be out there for this team.”
“Doing everything he can” includes, according to Roethlisberger, “range-of-motion stuff. It’s hot tubs, cold tubs, resistance, moving, massages, everything we can possibly do. We got molded today for a cast for an ankle brace to see if that helps. We’re doing everything we can.”
The question facing the Steelers is whether Roethlisberger could incur further damage to his ankle if he plays.
“They said ‘obviously you can make it worse’ and that’s the point of the ankle brace, to prevent that if possible,” Roethlisberger said. “But I’m not going to go out there and worry about making it worse. I’m going to go out there and play if I can. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
If Roethlisberger can’t play, Arians said the starting quarterback would be Charlie Batch, the 37-year-old who started Games 3 & 4 last year during Roethlisberger’s suspension.
Batch completed 24 of 38 passes for 327 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions as the Steelers beat Tampa Bay and lost to Baltimore. Those marked the first starts for Batch since the 2007 regular-season finale.
As expected, Roethlisberger said his foot feels worse than it did during his return in the second half last Thursday night. But since the adrenaline wore off, he said he’s just started to feel better.
“The masseuse last night really got a lot of the swelling out,” he said. “It actually looks like an ankle now instead of one big mass of fluid down there. We’re definitely making big progress.”
NOTES – Missing Thursday’s practice along with the four Pro Bowlers were reserve OLB Chris Carter (hamstring), rookie RT Marcus Gilbert (illness), and reserve WR/RS Emmanuel Sanders (foot). Limited by injuries at practice were special-teams captain Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and the special-teams’ leading tackler Curtis Brown (knee). ... Arians made it official by saying Pouncey would be replaced at center by LG Doug Legursky and Trai Essex would play LG.
(Here is the transcript from the Ben Roethlisberger interview.
(Here is the transcript from the Bruce Arians interview.