Big Ben plays with 1st-team offense

Updated: July 31, 2010, 7:41 PM ET
By James Walker | ESPN.com

LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin cautioned that he will not be locked in with a set rotation at quarterback this summer. But on the opening practice of training camp, Ben Roethlisberger played with the first-team offense.

The Steelers have an interesting dilemma with their quarterbacks entering the 2010 season. Roethlisberger will serve a conditional six-game suspension, which has opened the door for backups Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.

Leftwich was primarily with the second-team skill players Saturday morning and worked some reps with the starting offensive line. Dixon followed Leftwich as Pittsburgh's third quarterback.

Roethlisberger and Leftwich shared first-team snaps in the afternoon practice.

But as the coaching staff warned, the rotation can -- and probably will -- change at any moment.

"We're going to switch it every day," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "But to start the first day, we put our guys out there like we ended up in the spring ... It's the first day and it's a long way to [the end of] training camp."

Roethlisberger said he doesn't know what the rotation will be this year and is "taking it one day at a time."

"I'm up for whatever they want," Roethlisberger said. "I'm helping any and all of the quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, running backs. Byron and I are communicating a lot about different things we see out there. ... Whatever rotation they want me to do, I'd run the scout team if they want me to. It wouldn't matter."

While Roethlisberger was forced to stay away from the team in the spring, Leftwich took most of the first-team snaps and is the early favorite to win the job.

Dixon, who has only one career start, also will compete, but has to make up some ground in training camp and the preseason in order to start in Week 1.

Roethlisberger, admittedly not a good teammate at times during his first six NFL seasons, was more outgoing and animated than usual during the first of the day's two practices. Receiver Hines Ward said the disgraced quarterback was clearly working to improve his relationship with his teammates.

"For many years, people didn't know what was really going on with Ben," Ward said. "He's starting to open up and be more personal with guys. Today he was talking to everybody. I really think he understands the situation. I think you could really see the excitement in him, competing and playing football again. ... He's working on trying to improve himself."

Roethlisberger received a loud ovation from fans, who were allowed in for the first time in the afternoon practice. He gave high fives to fans before practice and signed autographs afterwards.

"It's neat to hear everybody cheering and seeing my jersey," Roethlisberger said. "It was a lot of encouragement."

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. He's been through enough already."

Roethlisberger said he hopes to get past this and get back to winning championships.

"That's always my goal and that's not going to change," Roethlisberger said. "I want to get out there, and I want to win a championship this year. That's my ultimate goal."

Arians said nobody should have been surprised to watch Roethlisberger practicing with the starters.

"He's our quarterback and everybody else is fighting for a job," Arians said. "We'll switch it every day cause he's got to get with the young receivers and the other guys have to get with the veteran receivers."

James Walker covers the AFC North for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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