Ben Roethlisberger Returns to Steelers, Changes 'For the Better'
"I don't know if anyone else really sees it," said Brett Keisel, a Steelers defensive end. "But we're close and I think he's made changes for the better."
What ways do those changes show?
"I don't know," Keisel said. "It's hard to really tell."
Tuesday gave Roethlisberger his first chance to show he's made changes. Almost six weeks after he was suspended four-to-six games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and soon after Goodell had a chance to review a "behavioral evaluation" the commish had ordered, Roethlisberger was on the field for the first time since April 19 and 20, the first two days of OTAs (organized team activities, which are really just an NFL team's way to wrangle more practices out of their players).
The suspension followed a criminal investigation into a rape charge, the result of a night of revelry for Roethlisberger in Milledgeville, Ga., in early March. Though he was not charged, the sordid details of a night when he celebrated his birthday with under-aged coeds led Goodell to take action. Monday marked his return -- though it was hardly MacArthuresque.
Roethlisberger declined to speak to a throng of assembled media -- including several from the NFL Network. He strode right through the crowd and left his teammates to talk about his return and his day and his mood and his quarterbacking.
It can be stated safely that most Steelers judged it "good" that Ben was back.
"I think it's good for him to get around us and be working," Keisel said.
"It was good to have him back in the fold," tackle Max Starks said.
"He looked good," Willie Colon said. "Same tall, chubby-faced guy."
For the record, Colon said Roethlisberger had a typical day.
"Walked in ... communicated, laughed, ate breakfast and came to work like he normally does," Colon said.
Also for the record, Arnaz Battle caught Roethlisberger's first pass, and tight end Heath Miller dropped his second. Roethlisberger did nothing out of the ordinary -- and did not address the team, something that sometimes happens when a player returns from off-field challenges. His teammates who commented publicly said he really didn't need to.
"It's not a necessity," Starks said. "Every person makes their own decision what they want to do."
"Everyone knows what's going on," Keisel said. "I don't think he needed to."
Keisel said when Roethlisberger was absent and Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon took the snaps, it seemed "like something was missing." He then quipped -- at least as well as a guy from Greybull, Fla., can quip -- that Roethlisberger needed to work on his throwing motion and get the playbook down.
"What is this?" Keisel said. "His eighth year and he doesn't know the playbook?"
In a serious vein, Keisel said Roethlisberger actually was a little nervous heading into the day,
"He told me he woke up before his alarm went off and kind of had butterflies," Keisel said. "Kind of that first-time feeling again."
Tuesday represented a step in Roethlisberger's continued return from the off-field tumult. While the 20-year-old woman who made the charge recovers in private, Roethlisberger's every move will be watched, documented and chronicled.
"I wouldn't say it's a big step," Starks said, "but it is a step in the right direction."
"We're all trying to get over this," said Colon, who was with Roethlisberger the night of the incident but left the bar before it took place. "I think we're already over it. We have to get ready for the season. We got a lot of people we got to knock down. Our focus is being world champs again. That's where we're all headed to.
"All the other stuff is BS and we're going to move along accordingly."
Roethlisberger has promised his team, the commissioner and others in Pittsburgh that he will be a different person. In addition to the criminal investigation, a civil suit has been filed against him in Nevada alleging sexual assault. Stories also have circulated in Pittsburgh and nationally that Roethlisberger's ego grew with each touchdown pass, and he was not always the nicest person. He has vowed privately that he will be different.
As Keisel said of the past couple months: "It's definitely going to test the measure of a man, where he goes from here."