|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Hines Ward returned to practice for the Steelers for the first time in 11 days.|
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hines Ward practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a sprained right knee in the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago, and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the wide receiver looked "awesome."
"He is where I thought he would be today," Tomlin said.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger practiced effectively, but at times, he appeared to be trying to stretch his mid-torso region during the workout at the University of South Florida. Tomlin denied a recent report that Roethlisberger had undergone X-rays on his back this week.
"Not that I heard," said Tomlin, who then asked Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett if he knew of any X-rays on Roethlisberger. Lockett said no. Then Tomlin said: "Ben's health is often the subject of inaccurate reports. He's fine."
Roethlisberger was hit in the rib/back area during the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. He didn't come out of the game, but backup Byron Leftwich hurriedly warmed up in case he was needed. Roethlisberger said after the championship game that he was fine, and nothing had surfaced about his mid-torso until Thursday's report.
Roethlisberger threw the ball well on short and deep routes Thursday -- including a 40-yard bullet to wide receiver Santonio Holmes and several sharp tosses to Ward.
Despite rain, which was heavy at times, the Steelers went through their normal Thursday routine, which features the starting offense and defense working against the scout teams and on red-zone work. Leftwich imitated QB Kurt Warner, and practice-squad wide receiver Dallas Baker played WR Larry Fitzgerald to help the defense prepare for the Cardinals' stars.
"We're getting a great look from our scout teams, and we have all year," Tomlin said. "I can't say enough about the quality of work we're getting from Byron Leftwich, who has been fantastic all season imitating the other quarterback. He's giving our defense a good look at how Kurt Warner plays."
The Steelers will practice again Friday and have a short walk-through Saturday.