I'm sure there are analysts out there predicting that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be "rusty" - they'll use that exact word, too, I guarantee it - now that he's through serving a four-game suspension for his second straight offseason tarnished by accusations of rape. You always see this kind of fortune-telling when the Colts go 14-1 or 13-2 and clinch everything there is to clinch, then rest their starters in Week 17. It's the kind of prediction you can get away with making, because it's such an easy, lazy assumption. After all, there's no burden of proof when you're just spit-balling behind a broadcaster's desk, and no one will call you out on it even if you're wrong.
Steelers fans shouldn't be worried about Roethlisberger. He's already taken a page out of the Brett Favre Book of Alternative Offseason Conditioning and worked out with a private quarterback coach at a local high school. He's been watching film, studying the playbook, and tracking the Steelers' progress in his stead. Numerous reports this offseason, particularly from training camp have said that he's in the best shape of his NFL career. Granted, everyone is in the best shape of their career every offseason - allegedly - but even a casual fan could detect changes in his appearance that seemed to corroborate this praise.
Say what you will about Roethlisberger's off-the-field idiocy - seriously, say it; I probably will if you don't! - but the guy has never been anything but a consummate professional when it comes to preparing for football. So it should come as no surprise that the quarterback's first practice went off without a hitch. Here's wide receiver Hines Ward on Roethlisberger's first outing with the team:
It's exciting. He was the first one out there. It's great to have him back. He was firing it left and right.
Antwaan Randle El concurred, although it seems he'll need to adjust his timing to get used to Roethlisberger's delivery:
In warm-ups, I had a drop because I didn't get my head around quick enough. It kind of shot through me. But I woke up from there knowing that his arm is a bit ready to go and it's sharp.
Whatever minor kinks there are, the Steelers will take care of them during the bye week. And they basically get a scrimmage when they return, as they host the division's perennial whipping boy, the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers are currently ranked second-to-last in the league in passing offense (136 ypg). Roethlisberger's return should turn that around sooner rather than later, as the offense becomes more balanced and much, much more potent, complementing a dominant defense that makes the Pittsburgh Steelers one of the NFL's early-season Super Bowl contenders.