LATROBE, Pa. (July 28, 2006) -- When the Pittsburgh Steelers players first heard about Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident six weeks ago, many feared the worst -- worried more about him living, not about whether he would play football again.
"A lot of players thought he was on his deathbed," Hines Ward said as the Steelers opened training camp.
Instead, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback is expected to be right there with his teammates when they go through their annual running test July 29. He's a not-so-big Ben now, having lost some weight as his broken jaw heals, but he's in much better shape than they possibly could have imagined.
During the June 12 accident near downtown Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger flew off his high-performance motorcycle and landed headfirst on a car windshield, resulting in numerous cuts and so much bleeding that he was told he easily could have bled to death at the scene.
"But you look at him, and it's like nothing's happened to him," guard Kendall Simmons said. "I'm impressed with the way he looks and I'm excited about him going back out there and throwing the ball around a little bit."
That might occur as early as July 30, when the Steelers will hold the first practice of their 40th training camp at St. Vincent College.
"Everybody has a sense of relief that goes back to the point where we learned Ben would make a full recovery," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "To be available right now, it's really, truly a blessing. We're happy not only for him but for Ben the person, to be able to function fully."
Colbert said there are no plans to put Roethlisberger on the physically unable to perform list, a procedural move that would allow the Steelers to activate him after the season started if it turned out he needed more recovery time.
Apparently, there's no need for that. The Steelers expect him to be ready for the Sept. 7 opener against Miami, and Roethlisberger likely will take about as many snaps in preseason play as he did last year -- or, not very many.
"Everything has worked out for the best," Ward said.
Most of his teammates have seen Roethlisberger since the accident, as he attended the now-retired Jerome Bettis' recent wedding in Jamaica. Several players said he apologized to them then, saying he never meant to jeopardize their chances of repeating their Super Bowl championship by getting hurt riding his motorcycle without a helmet.
Ward said there was no second-guessing of Roethlisberger by teammates.
"We all make mistakes in life, and it's an unfortunate incident that happened," Ward said. "We're not going to harp on the past. It's just great to have him in camp early."
Roethlisberger did not speak to reporters, but is expected to talk following the run test July 29.
As the Steelers players rolled into camp before their 6 p.m. reporting deadline, one trend quickly developed: There were no Super Bowl rings in evidence, but a number of vintage cars from the 1970s.
Player after player arrived driving a restored Impala, Caprice or Cutlass Supreme, most of them repainted and retooled with fancy sound systems and oversized wheels.
Maybe after finally proving they could live up to the Steelers teams of the 1970s by winning a Super Bowl, they decided to drive the cars those Steelers may have driven back then.
As for the lack of rings, Ward said the explanation was simple.
"Last year was last year," he said. "We're not going to talk about what happened last year. Every year's different, and this is 2006. We're not looking at the past. It's over."
The Steelers made one roster move by releasing former Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford, who spent time on their practice squad last season. They also added NFL Europe wide receiver Marvin Allen, who will spend the season on their practice squad and cannot be activated.
The Associated Press News Service
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