The Pittsburgh Steelers resumed voluntary organized team activities on Tuesday, and they did so without Ben Roethlisberger, who still is not cleared by the NFL after his mandated behavioral evaluation.
Roethlisberger has reportedly completed his evaluation and the Steelers are still waiting for word when the quarterback will be cleared by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to resume workouts.
"I'm waiting for word from New York like everyone else," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm not going to speculate until I get that word."
During Roethlisberger's absence Byron Leftwich, the backup when the Steelers won the Super Bowl 15 months ago, is taking most of the snaps with the starters.
"I don't believe it's an effective approach to go into camp with a pure, open quarterback competition, if you will, a three-headed quarterback battle," Tomlin said. "We'll go in with a pecking order, and the opportunity to show what you're capable of will be based on that pecking order. All three guys will be given an opportunity but not an equal opportunity."
Training camp will be unique because the Steelers will have two starting quarterbacks to prepare -- someone for the first six games and Roethlisberger. By giving so much time to one quarterback, the Steelers are trying to prevent a significant drop-off in timing, execution or consistency when Roethlisberger isn't in charge.
"Ben's been in that huddle a long time now," Leftwich said. "He's been that guy for a long time. But the circumstances that exist, someone has to be in there, so I'm going to work my tail off and try to be the guy. He's going to miss those games, and someone's going to have to play. My mindset is I'm the guy, that we don't miss a beat."
With the Steelers coming off a 9-7 season in which they were good at the start, good at the finish and mystifyingly bad during the middle, they want to get off to a good start and put 2009 behind them as quickly as possible.
To Leftwich, that's why these seemingly routine-as-it-gets May practices are important.
"Especially for a lot of the guys Ben has played with a lot of years, there's chemistry there," Leftwich said. "That's why it's important for the guys that's here to come in and don't miss a beat. That's our whole plan, to get into the huddle, command the huddle."
Besides the voluntary practices scheduled to begin Tuesday and conclude Thursday, the Steelers also have OTAs scheduled for May 25-27, June 1-3 and June 8-10.
There was a Roethlisberger sighting Monday, however, as the quarterback played in the Hoge Starks Ward Celebrity Golf Classic for Children.
The charity event benefits the Highmark Caring Place, which benefits grieving children. Since 1994, the event has raised almost $2 million for the charity.
"Ben has always been here, always supported us," former Steelers running back and current ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. "I think, in visiting with him in the last week or two, I see a different energy about Ben. It is kind of a platform for him to, you know, reconcile with the fans and show them he has changed and he wants to be not just a better player but a person."
Receiver Hines Ward said that Roethlisberger has always been a big supporter of the charity.
"Ben lost his mother early in his life, and he has been a main contributor," Ward told WTAE.
Ward said the golf event was a good first step for Roethlisberger.
"Now, it's working on how to get things back on the right track. Having him out here [Monday] -- I'm glad to have him here. His suspension is what it is. Life isn't over for him. He has to go on," Ward told WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh.
On April 21, Goodell suspended the two-time Super Bowl winner for the first six games of the season and also ordered him to undergo a behavioral evaluation following a March incident in which a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. The case will not be prosecuted.
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended under the conduct policy by Goodell who has not been arrested or charged with a crime. Goodell said the league's conduct policy gives him the right to impose discipline regardless of whether Roethlisberger broke the law.
The suspension can be reduced to four games if Roethlisberger completes an evaluation mandated by the league; any action that is mandated by that evaluation; and if he remains out of trouble. He can practice during training camp and play in preseason games but cannot return to game action until at least Oct. 17.
"It's hard to go into a season without your star quarterback," said Ward, who didn't practice Tuesday because of a sore hamstring. "Our motto is not going to change; our mentality is not going to change. We've got one goal, and that's to try to win. The guys who are here now, that's what we're trying to do."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.