PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger zipped passes to all areas of the practice field Thursday and was accurate while doing it according to Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator Todd Haley and several players.
Roethlisberger's performance should extinguish a rumor that he had a right (throwing) hand injury after hitting it on a rushing New Orleans Saints player on Sunday. The rumor was fueled Wednesday when Roethlisberger didn't practice.
"After tough, physical games like that, coming in here on the (indoor facility) turf, Coach wanted to give him a break yesterday,'' Haley said Thursday after practice. "But today, he was sharp and throwing it around the field.''
Roethlisberger has admitted his play has been off lately, and the numbers certainly indicate as much. During the opening nine games this season, Roethlisberger threw 22 touchdown passes and was picked off just three times. He had a passer rating at 110.6.
That included a three-game stretch against Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore, all home games, when he had 14 TD passes and no interceptions. But in the past three games, Roethlisberger has been sub-par with just four scoring passes, five interceptions and a passer rating at 79.3.
"When you evaluate the quarterback, you need to look at the entire group,'' Haley said, referring to the Steelers receivers and running backs. "(But) the spotlight is always going to be on the quarterback on every play.''
Haley quickly added that occasionally the play hasn't been as sharp around Roethlisberger as well.
"Le'Veon and A.B. will continue to have the bull's-eye on their backs, so that means the other guys will have to make plays when their number's called or it's their turn in the progression,'' Haley said, referring to wideouts Markus Wheaon and Martavis Bryant. "Lance (Moore) is included in that group, DHB (Darrius Heyward-Bey), those guys need to make plays even though they've had less opportunities.''
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau believed that rookie Ryan Shazier (ankle) and second-year player Jarvis Jones (right wrist), the club's past two No. 1 picks, both had a good chance to play at Cincinnati on Sunday. Shazier has missed seven games with knee and ankle injuries, while Jones has been out since Week 3 after surgery. He practiced last week and believes he'll be active for the Steelers (7-5) against the Bengals.
Both Jones and Shazier likely will have to shake off some rust, but LeBeau certainly was complimentary of his two linebackers.
"(Jones) improved steadily last year, and you could go from the middle of the season on he was playing really good football,'' LeBeau said. "And he was playing pretty good football ... he got hurt early, but he was looking good in camp. He's probably going to be a little rusty, but he's a developing good football player."
"(Shazier) has looked good, and if he has a hat. If he's active, he'll see some playing time. I think you have to be patient with all first-year players. It's too bad that some of our young players have missed quite a few snaps, Ryan and Jarvis. ... We think a lot of both of them, but you can't do anything about the time that they've missed.''
And since Brett Keisel is on injured reserve now, rookie second-round pick Stephon Tuitt is expected to start at right defensive end.
"Well, everybody gets their opportunities, and I'm sure he will make the most of this,'' LeBeau said. "But he's a developing, young football player, who I think has a very solid future. There's nothing that he's done that we've been unhappy with. So, he's going to get more snaps, without a doubt. We'll see how he does, but I think he'll do well.''
Notes: The injury news wasn't as positive for starters such as right offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), outside linebacker James Harrison (knee) and strong safety Troy Polamalu (illness), who have not practiced all week. ... CB Cortez Allen (thumb), CB Brice McCain (hamstring), NT Steve McLendon (right shoulder), CB Ike Taylor (shoulder) and Shazier practiced Thursday and are expected to play.