LATROBE, Pa. - His No. 7 hasn't changed. Neither has his place in the offense. Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers' starting quarterback, and that was quickly evident during their first practice of training camp.
Ben Roethlisberger was so worried that the Pittsburgh Steelers fans who once embraced him would boo him, he couldn't recall being so nervous and apprehensive before a football practice.
What Roethlisberger didn't expect was this: Waves of cheering supporters wearing his No. 7 jersey and knocking over temporary security fences to get the autograph of a player whose vulgar off-field behavior led the NFL to suspend him for six games. "I was nervous, scared, anxious, a lot of emotions," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger, so disliked in Pittsburgh a few months ago that he wondered if he'd ever regain a sliver of his previous support, was greeted warmly by an enthusiastic crowd estimated at 10,000 Saturday at Saint Vincent College. He heard few, if any jeers, and many fans appeared to go out of their way to embrace him.
"For many years, people didn't know what was really going on with Ben," Hines Ward said. "He's starting to open up and be more personal with guys . . . Today he was talking to everybody He's working on trying to improve himself."
During the Steelers' offseason workouts, Ward said Roethlisberger should apologize to his teammates for getting suspended. However, Ward said no such apology was made during a busy team meeting Friday night. "The whole apology thing, I'm tired of talking about it. He publicly apologized to everybody (by issuing a statement)," Ward said. "He doesn't have to come up to me and apologize."
While Roethlisberger will practice less than usual because Byron Leftwich also needs time with the regulars before the season starts, it's not as if he'll suddenly become a backup.
Roethlisberger and Leftwich split time with the starters Saturday, with Roethlisberger running the opening series.