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Roethlisberger: Heinz Field turf lessened impact of injury

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has his helmet adjusted before practice Monday in Pittsburgh.

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PITTSBURGH - That artificial turf the Steelers never installed at Heinz Field might have saved them a franchise quarterback. Or at least, saved him from a bigger headache.

Ben Roethlisberger credited the giving grass surface for saving him from a more serious injury Dec. 28 when his head bounced off it after Cleveland linebackers Willie McGinest and D'Qwell Jackson knocked him to the turf late in the first half.

They carried Roethlisberger out on a stretcher that game; he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and he did not practice last week. But he did practice Monday and said he will start Sunday when the Steelers play the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field in an AFC divisional playoff game.

"I'm glad we weren't on FieldTurf," Roethlisberger said Monday, speaking publicly for the first time since his injury. "That grass - you know, the soft Heinz Field - might've helped a little bit. That whiplash is always a pain. If you ask any position player, when they hit that ground with the whiplash, it's going to hurt like crazy."

Still, he said it was "scary" because his arms went temporarily numb.

"Yeah, I couldn't feel them. They pricked me with a pin and I couldn't feel it. When you see the doctor look at the trainer with that look, it kind of scares you a little bit."

The scary part is over, now come the questions. First, there were those from the doctors; he took several tests last week and passed his final one Monday morning. Now, they'll come from fans and the news media: Will there be an effect from the concussion when he takes the field Sunday?

"I plan on being out there 100 percent ready to go," Roethlisberger said.

He also was cleared to play after his previous concussion that occurred Oct. 22, 2006, in Atlanta. He played the following Sunday in Oakland, was sacked five times and threw four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns in a 20-13 loss.

Roethlisberger said yesterday "that's so long ago, I don't even remember," but offered one difference this time and the last.

"Well, it's nice that we had the week off. That's a big help. And last time we got cleared [by doctors to play]. We're taking every precaution necessary with doctors and everybody. It's going well."

Roethlisberger said he will do nothing differently, will wear the same helmet and won't worry about getting hit again.

"You can't afford to. It's just like when a player comes off knee surgery, or some kind of injury, you can't go out there and play afraid, play scared to be hurt, because that's when you get hurt. So I'm going to go out there and play normal football. If I get hit, I get hit."

Roethlisberger took most of the snaps with the first team Monday, although backup Byron Leftwich worked some plays with the first team as well.

Heinz Field has a DDGrassMaster surface that is grass held in place by poly fibers. They reinstalled that surface after last season, but not before seriously considering an artificial turf, particularly after the "Muck Game" 3-0 victory against the winless Dolphins Nov. 26, 2007. The Steelers installed grass sod on top of their surface this season after their Nov. 20 game against Cincinnati.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ed Bouchette is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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