Roethlisberger's ailments leave champs feeling uneasy

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ravens' Afc North Rivals

September 07, 2006|By EDWARD LEE

As if the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't have enough to worry about, their star quarterback's health is in question again.

Ben Roethlisberger, who was involved in a motorcycle accident in June, underwent an emergency appendectomy Sunday and will miss tonight's NFL regular-season opener between the Miami Dolphins and the host Steelers. It's not certain whether he'll miss Week 2, as well.

So on top of consternation that coach Bill Cowher might retire after this season and worry that running back Willie Parker has to yet prove that he can replace the retired Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh fans will fret over whether Roethlisberger can return as good as new.

The Steelers have cause for concern. Roethlisberger, 24, is 27-4 as the starter, and he finished second in the league in passer rating last season as he led the team to the fifth Super Bowl victory in franchise history.

Despite having surgery to repair a broken upper and lower jaw, a broken nose and several more bones in his face -- as well as having five metal plates inserted in his face -- Roethlisberger didn't miss more than a day of training camp and played in all four preseason games.

Now, Roethlisberger's third operation in 10 months (he also had surgery for a cartilage tear in his knee in November) has generated more anxiety, but Cowher tried to be the picture of calm.

"It's a situation that can happen to any football team," he said Sunday. "You can go out there and have a starter go down, whether it's an ankle or something else of that nature. That's the nature of the business."

PASSING GAME

Personnel -- He's as understated as they get, but receiver Hines Ward (69 receptions, 975 yards, 11 touchdowns in 2005) continues to produce. Tight end Heath Miller (39 receptions, 459 yards) made five of his six TD catches during a four-week stretch in October. Running back Willie Parker (18 receptions, 218 yards) could be a threat on screens.

Biggest weapon -- Questions about Ward's health abound since he missed the preseason with a hamstring injury. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has relied on Ward, especially when the Steelers are inside an opponent's 20-yard line. Nine of Ward's 11 TD catches were in the red zone.

Biggest concern -- The free-agent departure of Antwaan Randle El (35 receptions, 558 yards) leaves a void opposite Ward. Cedrick Wilson is the incumbent, but the Steelers' coaching staff is hoping rookie Santonio Holmes, the 25th overall pick in April's draft, can make a push for the No. 2 spot.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan says -- "If you win the Super Bowl, you must have something going for you. Hines Ward is their go-to guy obviously, and their tight end, Heath Miller, is an up-and-coming guy they really use in the red zone."

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