PITTSBURGH - Apparently, Ben Roethlisberger got the message that practice makes the player.
One day after Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hinted he needed his quarterback to practice more despite his right shoulder injury, Roethlisberger took the snaps with the starters yesterday.
He plans to do the same thing today. And tomorrow.
"I'm practicing today, and every day, unless something happens to me," said Roethlisberger, who has one touchdown and eight interceptions in his last three games.
Something happened to Roethlisberger in the Sept. 7 opener when Houston's Mario Williams planted him into the Heinz Field turf: His right shoulder was slightly separated. The injury has bothered him since, and several times led him to skip practice until the Friday before games.
Tomlin suggested the reduced practice time might be affecting the timing between Roethlisberger and his receivers, even though the quarterback dismissed that notion before going onto the practice field.
"We don't have a lot of new guys out there," Roethlisberger said. "When you're throwing with the receivers that I have, we don't lose too much of it. But it's nice to be out there throwing to them."
Still, when Tomlin hinted backup Byron Leftwich might start Sunday against the Chargers (4-5) if he practiced more this week, Roethlisberger apparently decided that throwing seven interceptions in his last two home games might be incentive enough to practice more.
"I think it's important that you practice," Tomlin said. "The longer that goes on [missing practice], you start to see issues coming up with timing and cohesion. I think that's the spot we're at this point."
The risk, of course, is that more practice time means a greater chance of being reinjured.
"It's always going to be week to week," Roethlisberger said. "As we saw in the Washington game [on Nov. 3], it can always come back at any point. If we can get to the point where I was going into that game, where I was actually able to sleep on my right side again and not take the hits, I'll be all right."
Roethlisberger sat out the second half of that 23-6 victory but returned to throw three interceptions - all in key situations - during a 24-20 loss to the Colts on Sunday in which the Steelers squandered a 10-point lead.
They also gave away their AFC North lead to Baltimore (6-3), but Roethlisberger said it's not as if they ruined their season.
"We're 6-3, not 3-6," he said. "There's no reason to panic and no room for it. We'll let the fans do that for us. We're going to keep a level head and go out and play football."
Roethlisberger, speaking for the first time since the Colts game, said the number of swing passes and short throws he made resulted from the defense, not an inability to throw deep because of his shoulder.
"The reason we were checking down a lot was because it was a cover-2 defense and they were dropping everybody deep and the stuff underneath was open," he said. "That's why Mo [Mewelde Moore] had a lot of catches and Matt Spaeth had a lot of catches. A lot of why we threw the ball where we threw the ball was because of them."
A lot of why Roethlisberger threw the ball yesterday - and he threw several deep balls - no doubt was because of his coach. Roethlisberger already has thrown as many interceptions (11) as he did last season.
"I actually don't feel any pain from the game, so it's good," Roethlisberger said. "I had another week to kind of get healthy and healed. That's always the goal, to get out of the game without any injuries."
Also returning to practice was running back Willie Parker, who has missed five of the last six games with injuries. He sat out four in a row from Sept. 29-Oct. 26 due to a knee injury, then missed the Colts game with a dislocated shoulder.
That injury may require offseason surgery and is forcing Parker to wear a protective harness.
"It restricts me a little bit, but it's all right for the most part," he said. "The Washington game I was going out there protecting another injury and something else happened. ... I'm just ready to get back in there."
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