PITTSBURGH - Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged Ben Roethlisberger to prove his sprained right shoulder is ready to go before handing the keys to the offense back to his franchise quarterback.
A few dozen passes Wednesday appears to have provided a pretty compelling argument.
Admittedly a little rusty while going through his first serious workout since injuring his shoulder and dislocating a rib during a 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City on Nov. 12, Roethlisberger reported no major issues after letting it loose following a three-week layoff and seems on track to start on Sunday against San Diego.
"I'm getting there," Roethlisberger said. "I've got to talk to (tight end) Heath (Miller). He's my barometer. He lets me know how close I am to 100 percent on velocity and stuff like that."
Tomlin declined to name Roethlisberger the starter against the reeling Chargers (4-8) but sounded very much like a coach running out of reasons to keep his team's most valuable player on the sideline.
"I thought it was a positive day for Ben," Tomlin said. "He threw the ball around both vertically and horizontally. I thought the ball had good velocity, particularly in a few instances. So, it was positive."
The Steelers (7-5) are 1-2 since Roethlisberger was slammed to the turf by Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali, though the one victory came in a 23-20 upset of rival Baltimore last weekend that revived Pittsburgh's season.
Veteran backup Charlie Batch played well against the Ravens, passing for 276 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Still, Tomlin stressed his decision on whether Roethlisberger will play depends entirely on Roethlisberger's health and not Batch's growing confidence.
"We'll see what (Thursday) holds for us," Tomlin said. "We'll make sure that there (are) no steps backward (Thursday) morning."
There didn't seem to be any during a brisk afternoon session in which Roethlisberger worked with reserve wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery while starters Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace sat out to rest various aches and pains.
Roethlisberger estimated he threw "roughly" 3-4 passes in each practice period while leading the first team. Though the two-time Super Bowl winner experienced "a little bit" of pain and tightness in the shoulder, there were no red flags even if Sanders thought his quarterback is still working back into shape.
"He's still getting back into his rhythm," Sanders said. "This is his first time really throwing and the wind is out there so he's going to be off a little bit (but) ... we're very optimistic about the direction he's going to go."
It's a direction that will send Batch, who turned 38 on Wednesday, back to the bench. It's a place Batch goes with no regrets after a redemptive performance in Baltimore that atoned for a three-interception debacle two weeks ago in a loss to Cleveland.
"You always want to play but my role is the backup," Batch said. "So, if he's ready to play you can't be sad about that. Ben is the guy. So, whenever Ben is ready to go he's going to be out there and he's going to do everything in his power to be out there."
NOTES: Brown (ankle), Sanders (shoulder) and Wallace (knee) were held out of practice as a preventative measure but all are expected to play against the Chargers ... S Troy Polamalu also did not practice, but it was not injury related ... Backup QB Byron Leftwich (fractured ribs) also returned to practice but will likely be inactive on Sunday.
Tomlin says Ben is ‘on the right track' to play Sunday against San Diego
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