Good backups needed: Steelers among leaders of NFL pain index

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger's comments about physical practices possibly contributing to the Pittsburgh Steelers' rash of injuries raises an interesting point but is difficult to quantify.

Like other NFL teams, the Steelers are allowed 14 padded practices per regular season. There's not much hitting while at the team's practice facility. But the pad-cracking during a Steelers training camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, is arguably among the league's loudest. Do those hits have a cumulative effect on injuries?

We can't say, but the Steelers have listed 25 players as "out" this season, eight more than the next-closest teams -- the Browns and Colts at 17 apiece. To be sure, how the Steelers categorize injuries helps explain the gap. They don't waste much time with the "questionable" label; only three players have received that designation.

If you don't practice, you're going to be out. And that speaks to the same reason the Steelers lay the wood in training camp: Set a tone.

The Chargers lead the league with 56 players participating in NFL action through five weeks, followed by the Arizona Cardinals at 51 and the Steelers at 50, tied with the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins. Players can be held out for various reasons, such as suspension or injury.

Even if some injuries are self-inflicted, the Steelers are adequately getting backups ready to play. For the last two weeks, a second-string linebacker (Vince Williams), third-string safety (Jordan Dangerfield) and second-string linemen (B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard) have played significant roles. And all four performed well. I'm not sure the Steelers could survive a heavy diet of backups over a full season, but for a few games, it's working out.

And that mentality starts from the beginning of the year, said Williams, who's been brilliant at times with 25 tackles and two sacks in Weeks 4-5.

"Nobody on this team believes they are a backup," Williams said. "Everybody just believes they are waiting for their opportunity to put their hand in the pile and help this team win football games."

From asking around in the locker room, I believe Big Ben made those comments because he's fiercely protective of his offensive line, which takes a heavy pounding during camp. They are in the trenches nearly every day. And Tomlin said after the season the staff will take a "global look" at how the Steelers do business on the field.

Maybe the two prominent figures will find a sweet spot between toughness and tired locker rooms.