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Big Ben practices, looks ready to play vs. Raiders

PITTSBURGH -- This is what Ben Roethlisberger and coach Bill
Cowher were looking for: a normal day of practice for the
quarterback.

Roethlisberger, four days removed from a concussion caused by a
painful helmet-to-helmet hit in Atlanta, took most of the snaps
with the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting offense Thursday and looked
ready to play Sunday in Oakland.

"I'm very encouraged by how he feels," Cowher said.

Roethlisberger, jolted by the jaw-jamming hit he received from
Falcons defensive end Chauncey Davis, was knocked out for a few
minutes during the third quarter and forced to leave the Steelers'
41-38 overtime loss.

But Roethlisberger looked comfortable and relaxed in practice,
much like he did Wednesday night while slapping high fives with
LeBron James following a dunk by the Cavaliers star during an
exhibition game in Pittsburgh.

Cowher said a final decision on the QB's status won't be made
until gametime Sunday, mostly because Roethlisberger still must
pass more of the post-concussion tests he takes daily. He has
passed all tests so far, but any recurring symptoms or setbacks
would cause him to sit out.

Thursday is one of the Steelers' two major practice days of the
week, and any injured player who practices as usual almost always
plays on Sunday barring a later setback.

"He took all his reps, he felt very good, and we'll see how he
feels tomorrow [Friday]," Cowher said. "We'll see how he feels
after he flies across the country."

Playing the 24-year-old Roethlisberger only a week after he
received his second concussion since June might seem to be a risky
move by the Steelers, given his importance to them. Roethlisberger
is viewed within the organization as their most prized quarterback
since Terry Bradshaw in the 1970s.

But the Steelers (2-4) place considerable value in the
post-concussion tests that are widely used in the NFL and were
developed by two doctors, Joseph Maroon and Mark Lovell, and their
research teams at the University of Pittsburgh.

"I feel very comfortable with the fact our doctor here, Dr.
Maroon, is one of the experts that a lot of people have come to in
regards to this injury, so I'm very comfortable," Cowher said.
"To me, this is not my decision, it's the doctor's decision."

A player is tested initially when he is healthy, and the results
are compared later to those after a player has received a
concussion. The tests measure memory, motor skills and speed of
response, and any recurring post-concussion symptoms normally show
up immediately. Any player who has such symptoms is told he should
not play.

"From talking to Dr. Maroon I think that people always
speculate that after you have one concussion, you're susceptible to
more and then more on top of that," Roethlisberger said. "But
from what we've researched and understood is that as time passes,
that susceptibility goes away."

However, Roethlisberger's symptoms -- being unconscious on the
field, memory loss and headaches -- are commonly defined by some
prominent neurosurgeons as being consistent with a severe
concussion.

Some doctors and researchers in the field believe NFL players
are allowed to return too quickly from concussions. Among the
recent stars who retired because of concussion-related problems
were quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman.

Since June, Roethlisberger sustained facial injuries and a
concussion while being tossed off his motorcycle at nearly 40 miles
per hour and thrown onto a car; had his appendix removed; and
received a second concussion from the on-field hit.

"It's been a bad few months," he said. "Hopefully, it will
get better."

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter (hamstring) also
looks ready to go against Oakland (1-5) after being upgraded from
questionable to probable. He has missed two games.

Clark Haggans (ankle), the other outside linebacker, and nose
tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) did not practice and remain
questionable.