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Roethlisberger 'feels real good' after first practice

LATROBE, Pa. -- They screamed in delight, yelled out his
name, asked him to slow down so they could snap more pictures.
Ben Roethlisberger heard the ruckus, realized he was the cause of it
and could only smile at the attention.

And all he was doing midway through the Pittsburgh Steelers'
first training camp practice Sunday was changing his jersey.

"They were loud, and they were cheering for any little thing
that happened," coach Bill Cowher said of the 10,000-plus fans
watching a practice that couldn't have been more routine, with a
few passing and blocking drills and not much else.

That Roethlisberger was back with his teammates, throwing passes
to first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes and getting a bit of a
scare when he banged his right thumb off a lineman's helmet, was
anything but ordinary.

The youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl is less than two
months removed from a potentially tragic motorcycle accident that
easily could have ended his life, and having him back on the field
so soon is more than the Steelers and their fans could have
expected.

"I got the arm loosened up, and the body, and proved a lot of
people wrong," Roethlisberger said.

No wonder the fans were so eager to see him wearing a helmet
again -- even if it wasn't the kind of helmet that might have
lessened the severity of the injuries in that June 12 crash, when
he broke his jaw, nose and some orbital bones.

It was evident many of the fans gathered on St. Vincent
College's hillsides were focusing on Roethlisberger's every move
during a two-hour practice that was uneventful except when his pass
protection broke down on one play and his right thumb struck left
guard Alan Faneca's helmet.

Roethlisberger grimaced for a play or two, talked with trainer
John Norwig, then jumped back into the drill as if nothing had
happened.

"He hit his thumb on a helmet so it's good, he's back into
football," Cowher said. "He looked fine."

Felt fine, too, according to Roethlisberger.

"I felt real comfortable," he said. "The body feels real
good, the head feels good, so it was a good day. This is the first
time I've thrown in months, so I've got to ease my arm into it a
little bit but, no, I didn't hold back."

Because his motorcycle crash injuries were confined to his head,
the big question is how Roethlisberger will stand up to a big hit
in a game. The Steelers allow no training camp contact involving
any quarterback, as defensive line coach John Mitchell reminded his
players before the drills began.

"Leave the quarterback alone," he yelled.

Cowher is convinced the Steelers aren't rushing Roethlisberger,
even though they don't play a game that counts for nearly six
weeks. Until Sunday, Roethlisberger hadn't thrown to his receivers
since the first week of June, and Cowher said the quarterback and
his receivers must regain their timing.

Roethlisberger wasn't particularly sharp Sunday, having several
passes knocked down and another intercepted by linebacker
Clark Haggans.

"We've had all the doctors' reports and everything has been
that he's been ready to go," Cowher said. "He says he's ready to
go, so, really, we're proceeding on. The more you can get out
there, the more you can relieve some of that apprehension that's
always going to be there.

"Until he takes the first hit in a game, that's still going to
be there, too. But I like where he's at. He seems good and we're
moving on," the coach said.

What hasn't been decided is if Roethlisberger will play in the
Steelers' first exhibition game Aug. 12 at Arizona. Since Cowher no
doubt would like his quarterback to take that first hit or two soon
-- if only to get it out of the way -- he might prefer to play
Roethlisberger if possible.

"We're right on schedule," Cowher said. "We'll take it day to
day and week to week, as we will for all of our players."