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Old 01-01-2012, 08:49 AM   #1
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Default Ben's recovery? It's elementary

Ben's recovery? It's elementary

By Scott Brown
Sunday, January 1, 2012

The progress Ben Roethlisberger makes on his ABCs could have a direct correlation on how far the Steelers play into January -- and beyond.

The Steelers quarterback is working his way back from a high-ankle sprain, and Roethlisberger's recovery regimen is as comprehensive as his catalog of fourth-quarter comebacks.

One exercise Roethlisberger regularly engages in as he tries to strengthen the ankle that was nearly snapped almost a month ago involves the alphabet. Roethlisberger said he puts a rubber band over his left foot and traces every letter of the alphabet, using his big toe as if it were a highlighter.

"Throughout the alphabet," Roethlisberger said, "you hit every range of motion."

Roethlisberger hopes he can regain enough range of motion in his ailing ankle to lead the Steelers back to the Super Bowl. In the quarterbacks-driven NFL, the Steelers need Roethlisberger in relative good health if they are to make a serious run at a seventh Lombardi Trophy.

They could enter the AFC playoffs as the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 5 seed, depending on what happens today in Cleveland and Cincinnati, where the Bengals and division-leading Baltimore Ravens meet. But the Steelers' seeding will be moot if Roethlisberger, who is expected to play against the Browns, is not able to lead them in the manner in which the Steelers have become accustomed.

"I think he's as important a player as there is in the NFL right now," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said.

Dilfer said Roethlisberger would be his third choice as the NFL's MVP if he voted for the award.

"And it wouldn't be far behind Aaron (Rodgers) and Drew (Brees)," said Dilfer, who played 14 seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. "He's become such a rhythm passer, and his improvisation makes Ben, I think, maybe the hardest out in the playoffs, if he's healthy."

Sprains are bad breaks

Hines Ward gave a glimpse into what Roethlisberger is trying to overcome last week following a Steelers practice. The veteran receiver peeled off athletic tape and revealed swelling around his right ankle.

Ward sustained a high-ankle sprain Oct. 23 in Arizona. More than seven weeks later he still has a stark reminder of the injury.

"You're better off breaking it," Ward said. "Really, it's a four- to six-week injury. I rehabbed around the clock, and it still lingers. But everybody's healing and recovery process is different."

A high-ankle sprain is actually an injury to the lower leg -- specifically the stretching or tearing of the ligament between the tibia and fibia.

There are three grades of high-ankle sprains, and Roethlisberger's falls into the least severe category. Still, his sprain is serious enough that he said there will be swelling in his lower left leg until at least April.

Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is among those in the Steelers' locker room who can attest to what Roethlisberger is experiencing.

High-ankle sprains already have cost Pouncey a chance to play in the Super Bowl as well as the Steelers' past two games. The injury requires such attention that Pouncey spent 90 minutes on Christmas Day at the Steelers' practice facility, soaking his injured ankle and testing its stability through various drills with head trainer John Norwig.

"It's really aggravating," Pouncey said.

For Roethlisberger, tending specifically to his left ankle - he sprained it on Dec. 8 -- has turned into something close to a full-time job.

"I'd say five to six hours a day, at least," he said.

Roethlisberger alternates soaking his ankle in hot water and a cold tub of ice, shock treatment to try to reduce swelling. Roethlisberger also does exercises ranging from calf raises on steps while at home to standing on a cushion and testing his ankle on shaky ground.

At the practice facility, Roethlisberger uses stretching bands to strengthen his ankle. He also tests and pushes the range of motion in the ankle by catching balls from Norwig while standing on a shifting surface.

"About everything you can think of John Norwig and his staff are doing," Roethlisberger said. "The biggest thing is weight on my toes, and that obviously is involved in running and throwing and stuff like that. That's been the thing to try and strengthen it up on my toes."

Mechanics affected

For quarterbacks, the problem with high-ankle sprains is they don't just have to recover from them, Dilfer said. They also have to hope their mechanics don't suffer.

"You compensate trying to get some of your other body pieces making up for your ankle, and you end up tweaking things too much," said Dilfer, who played through a high-ankle sprain during his career. "Your mind sees things, but your body needs to react at the same speed, and whenever you're injured your body can't react at the same speed as your brain. That's why you'll see quarterbacks be less accurate. They'll think they're going to get away from a rush and not. They'll be late with the ball because the body doesn't respond."

Roethlisberger has played one game since the injury. It was a rare forgettable performance for the two-time Pro Bowler. He had four turnovers, including three interceptions, in a 20-3 loss at San Francisco, less than two weeks after hurting his ankle.

"I heard one of the most foolish things I've ever heard going into that Monday night game (on Dec. 19), that (Roethlisberger) was going to adjust where he aimed the ball because he was going to have to hang back on his foot," Dilfer said. "That's just lunacy. (ESPN analyst) Steve Young and I were literally bent over laughing because you can't all of the sudden change your game for an injury. This is happening at such a fast speed you can't adjust your instincts that quickly."

Roethlisberger had trouble planting, and Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians attributed that to Roethlisberger's errant throws. Arians said Roethlisberger, like any quarterback, has to be able to twist and turn on his plant foot. He also has to be able to put weight on it to be accurate.

"It's like a golf swing. If you're bracing, sitting on your back foot, that thing is going high and right, and you're not going to get through the ball," Arians said. "Same thing throwing a football as hitting a golf ball. You've got to get on the left side and hit it, and he's feeling more comfortable doing that, I think."

Arians said Roethlisberger's "mechanics are better" since the 49ers game and that the two talked last week about drills that will keep the mechanics from faltering.

Dealing with an injury isn't new to Roethlisberger. He played through a broken bone in his right foot for the final two-plus months last season, an injury that he called "really tough."

When asked about his current injury, Roethlisberger said, "This is frustrating. It really is."

A high-ankle sprain may affect Roethlisberger more than some quarterbacks because of his tendency to extend plays by scrambling. But, Dilfer said, a quarterback changing his style is anything but as easy as ABC.

That is why Dilfer expects so see Roethlisberger play with the kind of panache that won him two Super Bowls before the age of 27 -- gimpy ankle or not.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Read more: Ben's recovery? It's elementary - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbur...#ixzz1iDam6Inc
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