PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Steelers expect to go through most or all of training camp without knowing the exact date when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can play again.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell plans to visit the Steelers’ camp on Aug. 5, but the stop is not specifically related to Roethlisberger’s six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell is visiting seven training camps during the first week of August.
Goodell said the suspension could be reduced by two games if Roethlisberger has no more behavioral issues and does all that is asked by the league. Roethlisberger was suspended April 21 after being accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a Georgia college student in March.
“Toward the end of training camp is the timetable to find out,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said Tuesday.
The Steelers’ final preseason game is Sept. 2. They open the season at home Sept. 12 at Atlanta, but the earliest that the two-time, Super Bowl-winning quarterback can return is Oct. 17 against Cleveland. Should Goodell decide not to reduce the suspension, Roethlisberger couldn’t play until Oct. 31 in New Orleans.
“All we’re concerned about is Ben and, at this point, it’s six games,” director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. “Whether it gets reduced or not, it’s up to the commissioner.”
The uncertainty over when Roethlisberger can play could make an already challenging Steelers training camp even more difficult.
Coach Mike Tomlin must find enough snaps in camp and during the exhibition games for Roethlisberger and the starter at the beginning of the season _ almost certainly, Byron Leftwich. Leftwich took nearly all the snaps with the starters when Roethlisberger was barred from practicing during the offseason.
The Steelers also want to prepare third-year quarterback Dennis Dixon, who started one game last season. Longtime backup Charlie Batch is also on the roster.
“I don’t think they have a set rotation, I don’t think they have an exact 1-2-3 order,” Colbert said of the coaches. “I think over the course of the preseason they’ll get that. They also have to factor in how much work Ben will get knowing that he won’t be available for the minimum of four games.”
While teams always work with multiple quarterbacks during camp, this is the first time an NFL team has known it must prepare two starting quarterbacks because of a suspension.
“No question it’s an unusual situation and it’s a challenge for our coaching staff and our players, but I think we can have the guys who can do it,” Rooney said. “I know they’re determined to get it right. I think by the time the season opens we’ll be ready.”
The Steelers open camp Friday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, with their first practice the following day. Roethlisberger can practice through the end of camp, but is barred from all team activities while suspended.
Whenever Roethlisberger returns, Colbert has no worries about him being ready to play despite the lack of practicing. Roethlisberger threw for a career-high 4,328 yards last season, with 26 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, although the Steelers missed the playoffs a season after winning their second Super Bowl in four seasons.
“No, none whatsoever,” Colbert said. “Ben will be prepared. Ben is a super competitor that I think will come back with a real strong desire to prove that he’s still a great quarterback.”
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