On the first pass he threw Tuesday in his first post-suspension practice, Roethlisberger found fast wide receiver Mike Wallace far downfield for an over-the-shoulder catch of a perfectly thrown football.
Right about then, Roethlisberger's teammates probably were thinking the same thing: Ben is back.
"We have our whole team here, and we have our leader -- our quarterback -- back with us," Wallace said. "He makes everybody better. The offense is definitely going to go in another direction."
Roethlisberger showed no rustiness or lack of rhythm in his first practice since training camp, zipping passes throughout a 30-minute drill that was incorporated into the practice to quickly put him and his receivers back in sync.
"It was a good step, and I don't think it'll take as long as I thought," Roethlisberger said.
"It normally takes a while to get going out there, but it felt pretty good," Roethlisberger said. "I knew that my arm would be good. I knew it would be strong, and I knew it would feel good. It's just a matter of working with the guys."
Since last being with the team on Sept. 2, Roethlisberger worked out almost daily with a collection of receivers at high school stadiums, intentionally throwing more passes than normal because he wasn't doing anything in games. A private quarterbacks coach helped Roethlisberger with his footwork and delivery.
Wallace, the Steelers' fastest receiver, couldn't remember Roethlisberger throwing a bad pass during the entire practice Tuesday.
"We're going to throw the ball because we've got one of the best guys back," Wallace said. "So I'm excited. I've been smiling. Ever since last night, I've been smiling."
Despite having the NFL's 31st-ranked passing offense with fill-in quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon, the Steelers came out of Roethlisberger's four-game suspension about as good as could be expected with a 3-1 record. Apparently, the quarterback himself came out of the suspension about as good as could be expected, too.
By playing as well as they did without the two-time Super Bowl winner, the Steelers put aside any doubts about how Roethlisberger would be welcomed back. Potentially, there could have been hard feelings if his off-the-field problems had led to an 0-4 start, but his teammates insisted they have long since put the quarterback's troubles behind them.
Roethlisberger apologized to them during offseason workouts for potentially jeopardizing their season and, by the time training camp arrived, he was warmly received by fans.
Now, seven months after Roethlisberger was accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman at a Georgia college bar, the Steelers hope there finally is some closure of the issue from a football standpoint. Even if no one is defending Roethlisberger's behavior or the stress he caused an organization that has long taken pride in the way it conducts itself.
"What's in the past is in the past," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He did his time. He did his suspension, and now we're moving on. And we're glad to have him back with our team. We're 3-1 right now, so we're going to hand it over to him and let him do his thing and try to win ballgames."
The only apology Roethlisberger made upon his return was telling the wide receivers he was sorry they had to do much extra work during an off-week practice.
"What had to be said was said a long time ago," Wallace said. "He was sorry when it first happened, so we didn't need to go over it again or have him apologize. He doesn't have to do that. We know that he's sorry, and we know he's ready to play football."
Roethlisberger's return is expected to open up a Pittsburgh offense that has leaned heavily on its running game. With Rashard Mendenhall averaging 102.8 rushing yards per game -- he's second in the league to Houston's Arian Foster -- the Steelers probably won't ask Roethlisberger to throw an average of 34 times per game like he did in passing for a team-record 4,328 yards last season.
"I think they've been stacking up to defend our run, so ... I'm sure they're going to play things a little differently now with Ben in there," Mendenhall said. "He definitely adds another dynamic to the offense."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press