Ben Roethlisberger wonders if practices causing injuries

PITTSBURGH -- After the Steelers' second straight season with injuries to key players, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is concerned about the team's physical practices affecting the health of players.

Roethlisberger said he understands the Steelers' desire for a physical edge on Sundays, but he said he feels compelled to stand up for his offensive linemen, running backs and others taking a pounding during an NFL season, particularly at training camp. The Steelers will likely play against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday without three of their most talented defensive players: linemen Cam Heyward (hamstring), linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and outside linebacker Bud Dupree (injured reserve, sports hernia).

"When you're doing it over and over and the guy's shoulders are getting sore and knees start getting sore and hips and hamstrings and quads and things, and then they re-occur, you've got to maybe take a look at what you're doing," Roethlisberger said.

"We pride ourselves as the Pittsburgh Steelers being a physical football team, so it's a fine line you have to walk."

After Wednesday's practice, coach Mike Tomlin said the balance between physicality and protecting players is "a conversation we continually have." The team will evaluate this issue and others at the end of the season.

"We're a transparent group. Opinions are valued," said Tomlin of Roethlisberger's comments. "We don't care where good ideas come from. We're just trying to win football games. Ben's been around here long enough to have an opinion and also express it."

Roethlisberger said on his weekly appearance with 93.7 The Fan that physical practices might be taking a toll on the roster. He referenced the joint practices with the Detroit Lions in August, when Detroit was undergoing its first live hitting session while the Steelers had been hitting for two weeks.

Last season, running back Le'Veon Bell, Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey were among offensive players sidelined by injuries. Asked Wednesday what should change, Roethlisberger said he didn't know.

"I'm not the coach or the owners or the league or the office," Roethlisberger said. "I'm just a player."

All NFL teams are limited to 14 padded practices per regular season, but the Steelers are known to have one of the most physical training camps in the league.

Roethlisberger got several rest days during camp, and the Steelers sometimes give key veterans off days during the season. Roethlisberger said the Steelers "sometimes, not always" reduce hitting in-season.

"You see those pads on top of the locker being worn all year long, so like I said, for me, I can't complain too much because I'm not the one getting hit, but I will stand up for the big boys," Roethlisberger said.

Tomlin has said in the past that physical practices are a team-building requirement for his team, especially while trying to reduce a 90-man roster to 53 during camp.

The Steelers have listed 25 different players as out for a game this year, which is eight more than the next-closest teams, the Colts and Browns (17), according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Guard Ramon Foster said his recent chest injury came from in-game action, but he understands his quarterback's perspective. The starting offensive line takes a lot of the training camp reps while in full pads.

"I'm glad he spoke out on it," Foster said. "If he gets us less days in pads, I'm OK with that, too. We would have to see what's the correlation next year if we took the pads off more."